Posted: March 22nd, 2022
We’ve belatedly learned that LAURIE MANIFOLD, doyen of investigative reporters, died on March 3  at the age of 94.
ROY GREENSLADE writes: Father Time has finally caught up with the father of popular newspaper investigative journalism. Laurie Manifold was the mastermind behind hundreds of exclusives for The People. Among them were agenda-setting stories, such as Metropolitan Police corruption, football bribery, dog-breeding for vivisection, and the use of dogs for testing cigarettes.
Along the way, there were countless exposés of drug-dealing, the marketing of pornography and the exploitation of women in the sex trade. To reveal illegal and immoral wrong-doing, Laurie pioneered a range of techniques, many of which were adopted by the rest of Fleet Street, and not just by the popular press. He also schooled a generation of investigative reporters, all of whom acknowledged him as an inspirational and creative editor.
A stickler for accuracy and honesty, he was obsessed with ensuring that investigations were carried out without resorting to breaches of the law. He demanded as much documentary proof as possible. He even composed an ethical rulebook as a guide for his reporting teams. However, should the public interest demand it, he did allow for the use of subterfuge. It was, he always stressed, a last resort rather than a routine ploy.
He refused to cut corners. As a young reporter, Alastair Campbell worked briefly at The People. He recalled: “I spent weeks trying to stand up a tip that a children’s charity official was a paedophile. Eventually, I felt I had enough, and put in a memo to Laurie. ‘It’s 80 per cent there,’ he told me. ‘Trouble is, the missing 20 per cent is the evidence. Drop it.’”
Sadly, some of Laurie’s proteges were not so scrupulous, abusing the skills he taught them and failing to abide by his code of ethics. He should not be judged by what they did after leaving The People.
Instead, we should applaud what Laurie achieved in his years at the paper he joined as news editor in 1958, later becoming its long-run assistant editor. Let’s begin with his 1964 betting scandal triumph when he exposed match-fixing by a group of players in what was then the football league’s first division. Nine players, including two England stars, ended up going to jail.
The paper discovered that the football authorities were on the brink of charging a goalkeeper with letting in goals in return for money. Laurie suspected the keeper was a small fish and decided to investigate further. He instructed a reporter to turn up on the player’s doorstep, tell him the paper knew he was about to be charged and offer him £300 (a substantial sum at the time) to give his side of the story. He agreed and named a former player, Jimmy Gauld, as the fixer.
Manifold then briefed two reporters to visit Gauld, tell him they knew everything about his fixing of games in order to profit from betting on the results, as did the authorities who were about to charge him. He could make a large sum of money if he co-operated with them.
He should contact players who had accepted his bribes and ask to meet them in secret in his car, which was wired. He would receive a fee for every player he entrapped. The tapes were transcribed and reporters then visited each player to read them what they had said during their conversations with Gauld. In almost every case, the offending players signed statements admitting their guilt. Laurie proudly called this his playback technique.
But Laurie was not going to let Gauld, who was jailed for four years, profit from his crime. He was obliged to pay a fine equivalent to the total he had been paid by the newspaper. In the end, more than 30 players were prosecuted, of whom nine were jailed for terms between 15 months and four months. They also served lengthy bans from football, wrecking their careers.
In 1970, The Times learned from Laurie’s car-bugging exploit. It did the same to expose police corruption. And two years later, The People pulled off by far the biggest Scotland Yard corruption story of the 20th century. It revealed that the head of the Flying Squad, Commander Kenneth Drury, had been on holiday with a pornographer James Humphries, who had paid for the trip.
Laurie, desperate to obtain the key evidence to prove that Humphries had paid for Drury, believed he was justified in breaking the law because of the story’s significance. So, he recruited an ex-army officer with a shady past to bluff the clerk at a branch of Thomas Cook’s by pretending he was Drury’s accountant and fooled him into providing a duplicate copy of the holiday receipt.
The Drury story unlocked a huge scandal within the force, leading to the conviction of 13 officers and the suspension or early retirements of 90 more.
One of Laurie’s most memorable investigations concerned the cruel use of dogs to test new cigarettes. His reporter, Mary Beith, managed to get a job at the laboratory where she smuggled in a camera – in her bra evidently – to take photos of the dogs hooked up to cigarette inhalers. The resulting front page picture of the “smoking beagles” was sensational.
Similarly, he assigned a young reporter, Shan Davies, to go undercover and obtain work as a kennel maid at a Welsh farm breeding dogs for vivisection. The animals never left their cages from birth to death. She smuggled out rolls of photographs just before the suspicious breeder farmer realised what she was up to. The result: a picture of a puppy scratching helplessly at his cage under the headline, “Born To Die.”
Laurie’s enthusiasm for investigative journalism stemmed from his admiration for The People’s famous 1950s crime reporter, Duncan Webb, who had exposed the prostitution rackets in Soho run by the Messina family. It was the reason he joined the paper and was delighted to work as Webb’s sidekick.
Educated at Raynes Park High School, Surrey, and London University, Laurence Charles Manifold – invariably called Laurie – began his journalistic career in 1953 on the South London Press. Once his indentures were over, he spent a year as a Daily Sketch crime reporter before joining The People.
Laurie’s great passion outside newspapers was motor sport, specifically its off-road form known as moto-cross. But his greatest passion was his wife, Jean. He is survived by Jean, their two grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. His funeral will take place on 12 April at Charlton Park crematorium, Andover, Hants. Charitable donations can be made at https://laurencemanifold.muchloved.com/
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