Investigative reporters targeted by private eyes

Katz: good contacts are essential

Reporters working on big stories about major corporations should assume they are under investigation themselves, according to one of Britain’s top private eyes.

Jeff Katz, chief executive of private investigators Bishop International, said there was “a better than 50 per cent chance” that the firm would be employing his agency or one of his rivals to make checks on journalists.

Speaking at the Summer School of Investigative Journalism at Westminster University on Saturday, Katz said his company would “only research the background and previous articles written by a reporter, although there are other firms that would do more”.

Private eyes are frequently used to root out sources of leaks to journalists, he added.

The shadowy but growing world of private eyes came to press attention in the attempted takeover of Marks & Spencer by millionaire entrepreneur Philip Green, during which M&S’s managing director Stuart Rose claimed his phone and bank records were being tampered with and that his private diary had been seen.

Corporate investigations companies took off in the US in the Eighties as firms looking to complete or defend against hostile takeovers looked for any information that could help their cause.

More than a dozen major companies now operate in the UK.

Whereas traditional private investigators were depicted in Hollywood movies as retired police and customs officers, they are today more likely to have backgrounds as journalists, accountants and lawyers.

Katz said private eyes could work with journalists and be useful sources in situations where they were both working on the same side.

But where the private eye’s client was the subject of a story, the private eye would be unreliable.

The trick, he said, was to know who the private eye was working for – something that could only be attempted through making good contacts in the industry.

The dangers of using people claiming to be private eyes as sources were made plain by Barry Gray, a serial conman who took in a number of top journalists as well as big businesses in his 40-year career.

Gray convinced legendary US investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that he had secret information about Robert Maxwell and wooed the BBC’s business editor Jeff Randall – then with The Sunday Times – to Madrid, boasting inside information that turned out to be bogus.

Katz, who makes a habit of warning his clients about Gray, said: “He was amazing to us in a way, before he started claiming to be a private eye.

“He is an incredible actor with dozens of aliases; he could be convincing in every European accent.”

By Kim Janssen

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