Paul McMullan at the bar of his pub in Dover, Kent.
In the eyes of Britain, Paul McMullan is a slimy degenerate, a noxious villain of the Leveson Inquiry. An ex-News of the World hack and editor, he embodies the kind of pernicious man we imagined staking out the families of murdered children. In his testimony at the press inquiry, McMullan admitted to undertaking just about every dubious method of procuring a story imaginable – from hacking phones and rifling through people's bins, to bribing public officials and posing as a "teenage rent boy" to entrap a paedophile priest.
McMullan took a lot of the weight from Leveson because he was open and unrepentant. He claimed to honestly believe neither he, nor his colleagues had ever done anything wrong. His stance meant he was featured in the coverage of the inquiry all around the world, drawing hatred from the public, celebrities and his contemporaries.
I went to meet McMullan at his pub-cum-backpacker hostel in Dover. Sitting in the "007 suite", a shabby dorm room on the top floor, McMullan stood by his carte blanche justification for press intrusion, even though he admits he became “quite up [himself]" during the period after he testified. "I don’t think I did anything wrong, ever," he said. "Journalism has an absolute get out of jail card: ‘I did it to write the truth.'"
I spoke to McMullan about how he's no longer employable, his attempts to break back into journalism by buying his own surveillance van, his opinion of the Leveson Inquiry and what he thinks of the continuing battle to regulate the press.
Paul with the News of the World features team.
VICE: Hey Paul. Are you selling stories at the moment?
Paul McMullan: I can't really be bothered. Having gone from making a lot of money, it’s hard to work harder for less. Also, I’m completely unemployable. About a year ago, I rang up a friend on the news desk of a national and said, "I’m sick of this, can I come back?" I was happy to be freelance on whatever the day rate is. He said, "You know what? No one is going to employ a self-confessed phone hacker. You’re fucked. No one will give you a job again on Fleet Street." That was a quite a shock, actually. I thought, ‘Oh shit, I’ve hugely shot myself in the foot.'
There’s a difference in talking about the practice of phone hacking in general and the particular incident of hacking Milly Dowler’s phone [which led to the inquiry].
There’s nothing wrong with phone hacking and there's nothing wrong with hacking Milly Dowler’s phone. Unfortunately, the generally moronic British public are very easy to sway, and they confused the emotion of the girl who was killed and the grief of her parents with the act of phone hacking. She was dead, so there's no crime, which seems so heartless. The whole reason why we [the press in general] had to hack Milly Dowler’s phone is because [the police] are so useless that [they] left a mass murderer walking around the country banging women on the head with a hammer. I’ve got children of Milly Dowler’s age myself – it’s ridiculous to think there’s any spite.
What about the general state of the press right now. Are there any editors who you have particular respect for?
There are some very good editors. The current editor of the Sun, David Dinsmore – who used to work with me at News of the World – he’s alright. But their hands are tied. You used to be able to take a picture or do a story and people would run it; now, it’s, "Did they have a reasonable expectation of privacy? Where were you? Were you on a public road? Were they on a public road?" I thought, 'Fuck off – we never used to care.' If you were a star who was shagging someone you shouldn’t be, it was a story. The good old days of journalism have gone, and I’m a bit disillusioned with it.
Do you draw the line anywhere? Or do you think the techniques are acceptable, no matter who you're targeting?
There are a few times I haven’t done things I’ve been asked to because I found them too distasteful. But, by and large, no. I’d pretty well target anybody, unless I was going out with them or something. If you've got a free and buoyant newspaper industry or media, it keeps the baddies and the liars and the cheats in check, because they get caught.
What are some of the things you refused to do?
There have been three or four things. One of my bosses said, "We want to catch more paedophiles. I want you to go on all the adult networks, take stills and see if we can put faces to people having sex with children." I didn’t say no because you weren’t allowed to say no. I got the secretary to write down the request, got the boss to sign it and then I never did it. That happened a few times. I was asked to do really disgusting things – to watch child porn and try to identify who’s shagging kids. It was something I didn’t want to do. I started journalism for bouncy, sexy fun – not to do anything that seedy and distasteful.
Being an investigative journalist was pretty dirty business. Generally, you do the horrible things that the bosses ask. You had choirboys saying this piano teacher did this, that and the other, and got away with it. The police didn’t prosecute [the teacher] and we had enough to run [the story], but if we didn’t get a picture, it wouldn’t come out. I thought of throwing a brick through his window to get a picture, but I rang in to check and it was the first time the bosses told us to rein it in. We did eventually get his picture.
What about the state that the Leveson debate is in right now – do you care?
Do I care about Leveson? Yeah, I think so – only because I used to have a surveillance van. I used to be able to pick on targets, to sit outside their house and make a lot of money, and I can’t do it any more. It’s so boring and shit. People will know in about five years how much they miss NotW when they discover that Cameron wears woman’s underwear or something. I bought a surveillance van after [the Leveson report came out] and was going to go back into business, but no one would hire me. People were so careful of having another inquiry that the papers wouldn’t touch all the old journalism tricks we used to do to get stories. Basically, newspapers have tamed themselves for fear of being completely tamed through legislation.
Do you think that the fact they’ve tamed their behaviour is going to have a bigger impact than any change in legislation? Are you saying them changing their behaviour is a bad thing?
I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing. Taming your behaviour is a bloody terrible thing. What do you want as a guard dog – a little poodle or an attack dog that’s going to rip things to shreds and expose things?
Do you think any legislation that goes through will have as much impact on investigative journalism as the furore surrounding Leveson itself?
Everyone being scared of legislation has had a huge impact. It’s made me unemployable, for a start.
Paul sitting outside his pub.
Would you say the inquiry was too focused on phone hacking? If we’re discussing how to regulate the press, is it relevant if the act we're discussing is already illegal?
That’s a fair point, but we were breaking the law without any problem. At one time we were so powerful that we didn’t care about breaking the law, because no policeman or politician was going to come up against NotW and The Sun. People were frightened of it, and because of that people were allowed to break the law happily for 20 or 30 years. As soon as we got so weak that the politicians and the showbiz people who do these things with prostitutes and drug dealers could get their own back, they did so with vengeance.
The Leveson report said that the internet operates in a "moral vacuum". What do you think about that?
I saw that as well. It was very focused on print journalism, which is pretty close to being history anyway. Who the hell is going to chop down a tree, process it, ship it and have all that massive cost when most people who buy the Daily Mail know how to read it on a phone? I used to love newspapers, but I don’t buy them any more. There’s enough scope with new media to have decent investigative journalism come to the fore – individuals now have a voice.
Is there anything you want to add?
Yeah, I’ve written a book called Captain Daddy’s Cosmic Camper about how to bring up children. I’ve printed it out to read it and see if it’s publishable. I forgot to mention that that was why I agreed to do this interview. It’s about the family court and how there's a group of militant social workers that are actively trying to destroy middle-class families. I mean, no one is going to believe me, but you have to go through it to know that it’s true. I’ve seen it – they’re racist and they’re militant.
I see. Finally, given the difficulties you’ve had since, do you regret your testimony?
No, I had such a lot of fun. I woke up one morning about two years ago, just before I bought the pub. I had thingy [Nick Davies] from the Guardian call me up every week, saying, "We need someone to go on the record." I remember I woke up that morning and everything was fine – I had lovely children, a beautiful wife and a fantastic view over the Vale of Kent, but I was bored shitless.
That morning, when Nick Davies rang me up, I said, "Fuck it. Write what you like, if you put my pub on the front page." And he did. If I hadn’t woken up feeling really bored and Nick hadn’t called that day, I think maybe the NotW would still be open. Because it was only me doing up to nine interviews a day for the money and to publicise the pub, which really got it rolling and re-launched the investigation.
Okay. Thanks, Paul.
Follow Chris on Twitter: @MediaSpank
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