Plenty to smile about, but….

Does PR spokesman Clarence Mitchell know more than he’s letting on?

The Slog finds himself a tad mystified this morning.

Puzzle One: the Murdoch Sun has been publicising Gerry and Kate McCann’s book about their missing daughter Madeleine. This despite the fact that in January, their press agent Clarence Mitchell told the media he suspected both his and their phones had been hacked. So in the light of more recent Soham parent revelations about Newscorp allegedly hacking them in their hour of need, you’d have thought Gerry, Kate and Clarence might have concluded the Dirty Digger was behind it.

Why, then, sign a book and publicity deal with Newscorp?

Puzzle Two: as a result of the McCanns’ open letter to the Prime Minister in the Sun – pleading for the case to be reopened – Call me Dave I’m all heart Cameron leaned on Theresa May to cough up the £13 million required to do so; and she, being a lesser flea, rang some littler fleas in the Met to order them forthwith strongly advise that they do the same. Which they are now doing.

Having initially wondered why Dave would bother (apart from the chance of some lachrymose image repairs) I was then surprised to see the Prime Minister back-tracking over the last two days….insisting he hadn’t leaned on anyone, but merely ‘suggested’ they ‘might’ reopen the case. I was especially taken aback, because I know – categorically – that this is bollocks. Not only is it bollocks, Mr Cameron himself personally assured Gerry and Kate (they say) that the investigation “will come out of Home Office, not Police funds”. Not ‘might’ if it happens – will, when it does. This is an odd tense to use if you’re only doing the suggesting thing.

Of course, there’s more to this than money. The IoS had an intriguing piece yesterday, in which Met Police Authority bigwig Jenny Jones was quoted as saying, “The police should not take this case up in this way. It is ludicrous. This could take years and will cost millions. It is very unusual for police to step in like this and it is not an appropriate use of police resources. The Government is closing down the Forensic Science Service because there are not enough funds. This is a crucial part of police work. Although it is tragic and I feel for the McCanns, how can the Prime Minister justify spending millions of pounds on one case?”

How indeed? Why, I’m asking myself, do something so daft…even if you are David Cameron?

After digging around a little, The Slog has stumbled upon some people and events connected to this extraordinary business…connections that seem to make some potential motives clearer – and other bits considerably murkier.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was informed last Saturday by media contacts that Clarence Mitchell says the McCann phones have been given the ‘all clear’ vis a vis hacking: no naughty listening in after all, Newscorp found not guilty. This is a first. I must also express my entirely personal opinion that such a finding seems unlikely given Murdoch’s track record….but you never know.

Curiously, Mr Mitchell doesn’t think his phone is tickerty-boo: he told my media source he was still in discussions with the Met. Like another man we know well from the recent past, Clarence is in danger of becoming the story. Hold that thought.

He does seem to be centrally involved in this odd affair, but then Clarence Mitchell’s history makes him a natural for the job. Although in a Labour-spin role at the COI’s Media Monitoring Unit for a brief period some five years ago, in May 2007 he was suddenly seconded to the Foreign Office to work as  the McCanns’ chief PR man. I rang a few people over the weekend. Nobody seems to know why that happened – but he obviously did a good job of impressing the McCanns, because in September 2007, he resigned from the civil service to become the McCanns’ full-time spokesman – allegedly on a substantial five-figure salary.

He is still doing that job, but soon afterwards, Clarence started work at the hugely influential PR agency, Freud Communications. Matthew Freud, the owner, is married to Elisabeth Murdoch, the Digger’s favourite offspring. A few months back, Elisabeth trousered a very large sum by flogging her own production venture back to Dad. In October 2008, Freud gave David Cameron some freebie air tickets to fly to Elisabeth’s birthday party on the Digger’s yacht moored off the Greek coast.

Mitchell was obviously making all the right connections to enhance his career. On 4th March 2010, the Tories issued this press release:  ‘The Conservative Party has signed up Clarence Mitchell, best-known as spokesman for Madeleine McCann’s parents, as the head of media monitoring for its general election campaign’.

In this job, Clarence worked as second-in-command to…….Andy Coulson. Andy Coulson resigned just one day after Mitchell ‘briefed’ the British media about his mobile phone being hacked.

The good news is that how the open-letter-caring-Cameron bollocks now becomes easier to understand. Mitchell knows all the major players and has all the right contacts. He’d be perfect, in fact – thinking purely hypothetically of course – as the coordination guy for a McCanns project to extract lots of publicity and money from Newscorp via son-in-law Matt Freud, and £13 million of taxpayers’ money from Murdoch’s chum David Cameron. Given that Liz Murdoch is being quietly lined up to run the newly acquired BSkyB in place of potentially toxic Hackgate witness James Murdoch, knowing her hubby would also put Clarence in good shape for a presenter’s job there one day. (He used to do that very thing for BBC24, as it then was…until he fell asleep while due to be on air, and hurriedly left).

The bad news is that, as with most things Murdochio, several unknowns and dark alleys remain.

While this web of chums is partly just another example of  The Cameron Club – with all the usual list of suspects present – The Slog is not as yet in a position to work out the significance (if any) of Mitchell’s phone hack stories….and why his chosen release date was so perfectly synchronised with Honest Andy Coulson’s Downing Street departure. I’m still very confused about which event was the chicken, and which the egg – if indeed any hatching was involved at all.

However, journalists here and there might speculate in order to accumulate still more evidence, circumstantial or otherwise. Some might ask whether a high-profile antipodean family is perhaps in Mr Mitchell’s debt in some way. Others with even more suspicious minds might even wonder if Clarence knows where some of the Hackgate bodies are buried….and thus has Newscorp at a disadvantage. And experienced conspiracy theorists might even speculate that the Prime Minister himself has little choice, under the circumstances, than to go along with the coughing up of £13 million, however unpopular that might be.

Whatever the truth or otherwise of this chain of events might be, the fact is that Mr Mitchell has extracted a lucrative deal from Rupert Murdoch, and a police investigation for the sole use of Gerry and Kate McCann. So he really has done a stunning job for his clients.

What’s more, he seems to have done it for nothing. The McCanns and Mitchell have said on the record that the ‘Helping to Find Madeleine Fund’ did not pay any part of his salary, even when he had no other job. They say that he was paid by ‘an anonymous backer’. But Clarence Mitchell won’t say who that backer is, nor why that backer is giving him so much support. And he has changed his mind on at least one occasion about whether there was a backer at all.

The $64 million question has to be, can we trust what Clarence Mitchell says? Well, this quote from Carlos Anjos, head of the Portuguese police professional association, who had dealings with Clarence Mitchell, is brief and to the point: “He lies with as many teeth as he has in his mouth”.

There’s much to ponder upon here; but in the meantime, I offer this tantalising little postscript: Mitchell also reported extensively on the murder by Ian Huntley of Soham girls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Newscorp now stands accused of hacking the parents. I’d love to ask Clarence what he knows about that alleged hacking….and others. But despite repeated attempts over the last 48 hours to raise Clarence Mitchell on his mobile, he has not returned The Slog’s calls.

Those with sharper spades than mine may wish to dig further. In the meantime, if anything further comes to light, Sloggers will be the first to know.

Catch up on the full Hackgate saga here.

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