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street of shame
Hack with a heart of Oakeshott
Pig Gate, Issue 1402
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EVEN the most hardened tabloid hacks are wondering how Isabel Oakeshott thought she could get away with claiming that the young David Cameron pointed his percy at a porker. None of Cameron’s contemporaries believed that he played hunt-the-sausage with a pig’s head or any other piece of charcuterie. Nor could Oakeshott produce a scrap of evidence.

With sublime insouciance, she explained on Newsnight that she didn’t do anything so laborious as check her facts. Rather she and the obsessively grudgeful Lord Ashcroft preferred to put it out there and let people “decide for themselves whether it’s true” – relying on the non-dom peer’s under-taxed fortune to deter libel writs.

Vanity-vengeance project
Fact checking is not the only journalistic skill that seems beyond Oakeshott, who was political editor of the Sunday Times until Lord Ashcroft lured her away for his vanity-vengeance project by offering to pay twice as much as the Digger. Hacks are also meant to protect their sources, and it is far from clear that Oakeshott has protected hers.

The sole justification she and Ashcroft offered for their pig-poke story was that although they had no eyewitnesses there was rumoured to be a photo. They couldn’t find that either but it had allegedly been seen by their source, described as “a distinguished MP, who was a contemporary of Cameron at Oxford” – which rather limited the cast of suspects.

If Oakeshott thereby gave away her tipster, it wouldn’t be the first time. Eye readers will recall that in 2011 Vicky Pryce made the mistake of speaking in confidence to Oakeshott at the Sunday Times about how her estranged husband Chris Huhne swapped driving penalty points with her. Ignoring the cardinal rule that a journalist should go to jail rather than betray a source, Oakeshott and the newspaper handed all her confidential email exchanges with Pryce over to the police – and stood by while her source was jailed instead (see Eye 1336).

Reputation wrecked
“The Sunday Times put up a vigorous fight,” Oakeshott assured her readers afterwards. But it did nothing of the sort. It didn’t even pursue an appeal against a judicial order to give up the correspondence – which then provided the DPP with enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Huhne and Pryce for perverting the course of justice.

Could a journalist sink any lower? Oakeshott’s bank account may have benefited from being Lord Ashcroft’s hired hack – he has paid her at least £500,000 so far – but her reputation is wrecked.

Those who knew Oakeshott at the start of her career might not have been surprised by last week’s events, meanwhile. In 1999 she penned a feature for the Edinburgh Evening News on “Student Princes and the Upper Class of ’99” about Edinburgh’s wealthiest students and their decadent ways. She wrote it after interviewing members of Edinburgh University’s wine-tasting society and other posh undergrads who cheerfully told her how they supped on champagne and oysters, rented helicopters to fly down to London and hung out at decadent hunt balls. Unfortunately, the hunt balls turned out to be, er, total balls; the anecdotes Oakeshott wrote up were bogus.

More top stories in the latest issue:

The law about hacks who pay public officials is cloudy… but investigating generous party donor Lord Ashcroft could help set a handy precedent!

Paul Dacre’s hysterical attack on the PM using unsubstantiated claims in Lord Ashcroft’s book is a cause of worry to embarrassed Mail executives.

After a call from chairman Aidan Barclay, the Telegraph decides the ‘lurid nonsense’ of Pig Gate, the big story of the week, is unworthy of its attention.

New Sun editor Tony Gallagher wastes no time in attacking BT – a fierce commercial rival of his boss Rupert Murdoch’s beloved Sky.

The Sun takes an unusual interest in US politics and presidential wannabe Ben Carson – just after Rupert Murdoch tweets his approval. Funny that.

Evening Standard ranks rugby captain Chris Robshaw with George Osborne as London’s most influential person. (Clue: he was the editor’s son’s best man.)

Rebekah Brooks’ ex-PA Cheryl Carter, found not guilty alongside her boss, launches an energy drink which gets a plug in one national newspaper. Can you guess which one?

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Next issue on sale: 13th October 2015.

Private Eye Issue 1401