The Mail on Sunday’s investigations editor Paul Henderson, the first journalist to get an exclusive interview with Neil and Christine Hamilton after they were accused of complicity in a rape, wanted to be sure he had covered every angle.
It was instinct that led him to the answer. On a drive back to his hotel from their flat, in the early hours of Saturday morning, he said to himself: "OK, I’ve got a scoop but I mustn’t be blinkered. I must think laterally."
He recalled his own experience of being interviewed on tape by the police on an IRA bomb story. There must be tapes, he thought – perhaps the Hamiltons even had their own? After two hours’ sleep and a strong coffee, he was on his way back to the flat and, in answer to his question, the Hamiltons calmly produced not one but two tapes.
Henderson was on the phone to the MoS newsdesk immediately asking for a tapes expert to do the transcribing.
The result was the engrossing MoS scoop over a two-page spread.
Henderson told Press Gazette that he had wanted to be "the first face the Hamiltons would see in a serious way" after they had made their statements outside Barkingside Police Station.
By 5pm on Friday evening, he had set up an operation to trace their movements and turned up at a flat in Wimpole Street when they arrived.
The Hamiltons were already well-disposed to Henderson – he had broken an adverse story about their b?te noir, Mohamed Al Fayed – and his deputy editor, Rod Gilchrist, had already been on the phone to the Hamiltons’ agent, Robert Smith, negotiating a price for the exclusive interview, reportedly in excess of £10,000.
Henderson talked his way in by convincing the Hamiltons they should get all their story into the open before there was a drip-feed of leaks from sources. If they were innocent, they had no problem, he told them. "They went for it – for all their failings, they are very, very open," he said.
Against his advice, the Hamiltons were determined to return to their Battersea flat and Henderson followed.
With their home surrounded by the media, Henderson and the Hamiltons began an in-depth interview which went on until 2am on Saturday morning. What also began was virtually ‘house arrest’ of the couple by Henderson for two days as he tried to fend off the rest of the pack, getting just those two hours’ sleep in 48 hours.
He stopped the Hamiltons answering their telephones. "They are phone addicts. I was taking messages from Maurice Chittenden [The Sunday Times] and Andrew Alderson [The Sunday Telegraph]. I disguised my voice and said I was a friend." He stopped Neil from going running, saying: "You can only run around the balcony, Neil."
He remained with the pair until midnight on Saturday, bringing in a Thai meal himself just before the first edition of the MoS dropped.
Gilchrist said the MoS operation had been "a very fine picture of collective journalism" in which Dana’ Brooke, Jo Knowsley, Alistair Self, Fiona Barton and picture editor Andy Kyle had all shared. Gilchrist’s previous contact with the Hamilton’s solicitor, Michael Coleman, paved the way for the handover of the tapes.
By Jean Morgan