Posted: October 29th, 2020
Here’s the proof, above. Now read the full story in this extract from Terry Pattinson’s memoirs: Scoop, A Lifetime in Fleet Street
From Chapter 41: Hunting The Moles
MY exclusives on the Post Office and the coal industry caused apoplexy in the Whitehall corridors of power. I am probably still on the MI5 files as a hack to be watched.
One of my best ‘moles’ was rumbled, but they could never prove it.
He was a civil servant who was an expert on the coal industry, and energy in particular, and had access to ministerial correspondence. He was also a supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers. One day he taught me a valuable lesson in how to deal with sources whose careers would be at risk they got caught.
This man, who I nicknamed ‘Red Barrel’ because of his hatred for Watney’s keg beer, came to me one day in 1982 with a copy of a document written by Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley. Ridley’s secret role was to boost coal stocks prior to future industrial action by militant miners.
Ridley’s plan was called ‘Siege ‘82’ and explained in detail how Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher planned to beat the miners when they launched their next national strike. My ‘mole’ said ‘It will be updated every year…Siege ‘83…Siege ‘84…and so on.”
He was spot on. Everything Ridley had written came true in 1984 when Thatcher went head to head with NUM President Arthur Scargill.
The story made a front page ‘splash’ but was removed soon after it appeared in the first editions, which hit the streets before midnight. When I awoke the next morning there was not a word about it in my copy of the Daily Mirror. But my mother came to my rescue.
She telephoned from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, to congratulate me on my front-page story [see cutting, pictured above]. Thank goodness for mothers. My mum was always my greatest fan, and she kept my stories in her lounge, so she could show her neighbours.
When I reached the office, I discovered that all copies of the first editions of the Mirror had disappeared.
Nobody seemed to know where they had gone. I went downstairs to the library and asked to see the head librarian, a very helpful and nice guy called John. He took me to the files and, to his astonishment, the first edition did not exist.
All editions through the night were kept on file, but in this case the file started from the second edition, after my story had been removed. When I confronted editor Mike Molloy he appeared genuinely confused, because he had gone home long before my story was ‘pulled’.
He told me not to worry about it and advised me to concentrate on ‘other stories.’ It was clear that he was not interested in finding out the truth about what had happened. I think he mumbled something about ‘it is best not to know.’ But I am prepared to accept that my old memory could be failing.
I cannot abide conspiracy theorists, but in this case I have always wondered what the heck happened that night. The mafia doctrine of ‘omerta’ had taken over editorial executives. Industrial editor Goodman knew nothing about it and made no attempts to find out.
I asked my mother to cut the story out of the paper and post it to my home in Staines, Middlesex, to ensure that I had a copy of the story for posterity. Months later my suspicions were confirmed.
John Kesby, the industrial correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph, met me in Fleet Street and said he had a ‘belting story’ for me because his newspaper had spiked it. Kesby said: “We received written proof in a document signed by Nicholas Ridley that Thatcher was planning to beat the miners. It was all set for page one, but somebody tipped off Downing Street.
“The editor was ordered to remove it from the newspaper. I do not know if Whitehall threatened a D-Notice, but ministers do not need to do that when they deal with the Daily or Sunday Telegraph. After all, our papers are in their pocket.”
I told Kesby that I had written the same story a few weeks earlier, but my story had been removed after the first edition on the orders of person or persons unknown.
Kesby had not seen that Mirror article because he lived in the south of England. My Mirror story had circulated in the north and south coast regions and had been flown abroad.
On that occasion my informant was not suspected, but he went a bridge too far when he passed on information about pit closures two years later during the miner’s year-long strike.
Sir Ian MacGregor, chairman of the National Coal Board, had vehemently denied that there was a secret ‘hit list’ of collieries to be axed. My mate knew that the NCB was lying and could prove it.
He had seen another letter written by a minister and asked if I would like a copy. He reckoned that he could get it out of the files, show it to me, and return it without anyone knowing. But he said that only a few people had access to that particular filing cabinet.
By now I had become wise to Government ‘leak inquiries’ and how efficiently and ruthlessly they operated. After the ‘Siege ‘82’ experience I urged him to leave the Downing Street correspondence where it was. But I said: “Could you memorise it and give me the details?”
He said he was blessed with a good memory and he did just that. The story made page one and was followed up by radio and TV, as well as the rival newspapers.
But as far as my ‘mole’ was concerned, s*** hit the fan. There was a leak inquiry and they flushed him out. The investigators were retired Scotland Yard detectives, so Whitehall mandarins and ministers only employ the best when they have a ‘mole’ on their hands. The spooks had clearly done their homework and discovered that my contact and I were old drinking buddies. It would have been foolish of him to deny it.
They asked him: “Did you disclose the information to this man Pattinson?” He denied it because he knew they had no proof. He said: “I am bound by the Official Secrets Act. I would never disclose anything to a journalist. I have met Pattinson at beer festivals but that is about it.”
We agreed never to meet again and he asked me never to telephone him at work or at home. He reckoned his phones were now bugged. He was obviously worried about his job and his pension and who can blame him?
Before he left the interrogation room one of the detectives said: “Keep your mouth shut, particularly when you have had a few beers.”
It was 34 years before the ‘mole’ and I met again. It was at a beer festival. All we talked about was ‘real ale’.
PETER THOMPSON, former editor of the Sunday Mirror and deputy editor of the Daily Mirror, became a full-time author in 1991.
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