By Dominic Ponsford
Former Daily Mirror columnist James Hipwell was this week weighing up two possible book deals and a movie proposal after being released following six weeks in prison for insider dealing.
Hipwell told Press Gazette he plans to push on with his appeal against conviction and to use his prison experience as "another string to my bow" to help him rebuild his journalism career.
Still wearing what he called "a Peckham Rolex" — an electronic parole tag — Hipwell said he celebrated his release from HMP Latchmere House, Surrey, with a breakfast of eggs benedict and Pol Roge Champagne at the Wolsley restaurant in Piccadilly. He said: "It all tasted pretty good after the awful mess served up by Her Majesty’s Prison Service."
Hipwell gave up his job as editor-atlarge of gambling magazine Inside Edge to concentrate on his defence so is currently without full-time employment.
However, two book publishers contacted him when he was in prison and the movie executives behind The Football Factory, the 2004 film about football violence, have also expressed an interest in telling his story.
The former City Slicker columnist was jailed on 10 February for "cynically manipulating" the stock market between August 1999 and February 2000 through the pages of the Daily Mirror. He and fellow columnist Anil Bhoyrul were accused of buying shares before they tipped them in their column and then selling them after they rocketed in price.
Journalistic character Hipwell made £41,000 out of the scheme. Bhoyrul, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 180 hours community service.
Although Hipwell admits his sentence could have been worse, and that he is sorry for what he did, he still believes the punishment does not fit the crime.
He said: "The fight goes on as far as the appeal against conviction goes — I just want to restore my journalistic character. At least now I have another string to my bow in that I can write about prison. We don’t normally lock up journalists in this country — they do in Russia and some dodgy South American countries."
Hipwell’s appeal centres on the argument that Mr Justice Beatson misdirected the jury over Hipwell’s conflict of interest and non-disclosure of his share-buying.
He explained: "I said I asked Martin Cruddace, the Mirror’s in-house lawyer, whether I should be doing this and they used that as a stick to beat me with — if I’d asked Cruddace I must have known that what I was doing was wrong.
"I was quite happy to make disclosures that we were buying the shares as well as writing about them.
"It could have been a lot worse, I could have been sent to prison for 18 months or two years. As it is, I served just under two months and the rest is with a tag on, which makes me feel like a sort of multi-asbo’d 14-yearold hoody."
Hipwell believes his conviction should act as a warning to all financial journalists who move the market through what they write.
He said: "The fact is there are a lot of financial journalists out there who write rumours which might not turn out to be true.
"I remember a story that appeared in the business section of a well-known national newspaper in 2001. I bought shares as a result of that and a while later the company put out a release saying that the story wasn’t true.
"I lost £8,000, but the thought of that journalist being pursued for five years by a government department and then being sentenced to three months in prison is just ridiculous.
"If it’s happened to me it could happen to others. If I was a financial journalist I would be very worried about writing things like the ‘rumour of the day’ they have in The Times.
"And whoever writes the market report in any newspaper, which is always full of gossip and market rumour, should watch out.
"If they print something that isn’t true, they could find themselves in court and in prison and I think it’s absolutely monstrous."
The Press Complaints Commission is again looking at the City Slickers saga and Hipwell believes there are still questions to be answered.
Specifically, there is the discrepancy between the value of Viglen shares tipped in the Daily Mirror bought by his then editor, Piers Morgan, as detailed in the PCC report (£20,000), and as reported in the evidence during his recent trial (£67,000).
He said: "Piers didn’t lie to Trinity Mirror about the extent of his shareholding, but… what appeared in the official PCC report was totally inaccurate."
Medical facilities Hipwell served most of his sentence in Category B and C closed prisons, only moving to Latchmere House open prison for the last week, after his lawyers argued that he was being discriminated against because of his kidney condition.
The Prison Service said that Hipwell was kept in the higher security establishments because they had the necessary medical facilities.
He said that he now plans to write about prison life and believes that the prison system is in need of reform.
He said: "Most prisoners aren’t given anything meaningful to do.
About 50 per cent of prisoners don’t seem to be able to read or write."
He said prisoners at HMP Littlehey were given the work options of either smashing up CD boxes at the rate of 30p per 1,000, or assembling plastic toys to put inside children’s chocolates.
He said: "When you think that 70 per cent of the offenders at HMP Littlehey are sex offenders or paedophiles, I thought that was pretty sick."
One of the oddities of prison life experienced by Hipwell was the approved list of magazines you can buy — which included Razzle and Asian Babes, but not Press Gazette.
Despite his criticisms of the prison system, Hipwell did admit that he has learnt the error of his ways.
He said: "It’s a salutary lesson and I don’t think I’ll be going back inside again. Even if I was given the opportunity to write a City column, I don’t think I would be manipulating the market in the way that I’m happy to admit and apologise for doing."