Friday, 30 March 2012

How a Sunday Times sting operation works

On February 8th I met with two individuals who, I believed at the time, to be executives of a wealth fund who were looking to begin investing in the UK. Specifically they outlined how they were interested in purchasing government assets. The reason for my meeting with ‘Global Zenith’ was, at their request, to discuss support I could provide on issues and crisis management. 

The meeting occurred in a luxury penthouse suite on the fringes of Bloomsbury/Islington with sweeping views across London. For various reasons I will get into later I thought the meeting bizarre. However, as requested, I subsequently provided ‘Global Zenith’ with a summary of the kind of crisis communication work and training I offer my clients. I never heard another word from them. 

Earlier this afternoon I received a call from Heidi Blake, Deputy Insight Editor of the Sunday Times (who was known to me as Hayley from Global Zenith – her picture is below) saying they were about to email me regarding our meeting in February.



  For complete transparency see below for the e-mail I received from Ms. Blake at 13:17 this afternoon:

Dear Mr Staite,

We are preparing an article for publication in this weekend’s edition of The Sunday Times which will describe advice you gave to undercover reporters posing as wealth fund executives at a meeting in February. The article will say that at the meeting, which was arranged by the lobbyist Sarah Southern, you told the reporters they could influence the next Conservative manifesto by paying for a policy group “in an area that fits your agenda”. The party will soon begin setting up new groups to form policy ahead of the next General Election, you said. This process will go on “behind Chinese Walls” in order to exclude Liberal Democrats. The groups can be bankrolled either with cash sponsorship or by paying for a secretariat. Funders are allowed to “join in the conversation” and “communicate their priorities” in order to influence the outcome. You told the reporters they could even come up with their own idea for a policy group for the party in exchange for funding and suggested Government efficiencies as a good area. You said they could use their influence over such a group to benefit their business strategy by pushing for the sale of the Royal Mail and other assets.

Please respond by email with any comments that you wish to make on the above points by 6pm on Friday.

Yours sincerely,


Heidi Blake

Deputy Insight Editor



During the meeting, which I believed was about how I could provide issues and crisis support to Global Zenith, I was asked a number of times whether I could secure a meeting with George Osborne if they paid money to the Conservative Party. I seem to remember a figure of £250,000 being offered. I flatly, and firmly, said no. I have never facilitated meetings with ministers in this or any other way and I am not a lobbyist.

Although we met for an hour, very little time was spent talking about what I was offering them. Instead they continually questioned ways they could gain influence and secure access in British politics.

This led me to outline how the best way to positively engage in the political process is to sponsor policy making. This is completely transparent and a positive way to help political parties or think-tanks to renew and help meet the demands of modern Britain. Instead of old fashioned Lobbying which, all too often, seems based on securing access, this route makes companies relevant as they are providing new ideas and a fresh approach to problems.

Of course, as with the Conservative policy group process when in opposition, not every policy put forward finds its way into a manifesto.  

Looking at , what will surely be  the edited ‘highlights’  extracted for the article they will write I am sure it will paint me as someone who was suggesting a secret route to buy influence. What I was actually suggesting was the complete opposite; to get away from meetings to influence ministers replacing this with a transparent approach to generate new ideas.

Since leaving the Conservative Party nearly 4 years ago I have worked advising corporate clients in communications, 18 months ago I went out on my own to continue doing this. Anyone can go on my website and see the services I offer. I met with these journalists in good faith believing they were a business who needed support in issues and crisis management. They weren’t - they were trying to lead and entrap me.

The way the Sunday Times consistently tried to lead me to say something untoward and then, despite the fact I didn’t, are still threatening me with these flimsy allegations is entrapment of the worst kind. I have frequently supported investment by media organisations in genuine investigative journalism. This sting operation, undermining someone who is trying to grow a small business is not investigative journalism.

I didn’t say or do anything wrong. On the contrary, I was attempting to advise these people to do something that was right. Perhaps this is why the email including the allegations against me is so carefully worded.

Below is a line by line rebuttal to this email:

Dear Mr Staite,

We are preparing an article for publication in this weekend’s edition of The Sunday Times which will describe advice you gave to undercover reporters posing as wealth fund executives at a meeting in February.

They lied to meet me, took up at least a day of my time and, I assume filmed the whole thing while lying further as a way to attempt entrapment.


I outlined a way to make a positive contribution to the political process instead of paying for influence as the journalists continually advocated.

The party will soon begin setting up new groups to form policy ahead of the next General Election, you said.

They will as is the natural process of politics.

This process will go on “behind Chinese Walls” in order to exclude Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are not the same party so naturally they have different policies. This is attempting to make me, and what I advocated, look underhand.  

The groups can be bankrolled either with cash sponsorship or by paying for a secretariat. Funders are allowed to “join in the conversation” and “communicate their priorities” in order to influence the outcome.

As bankrolled is not in inverted commas and it is not something I’d say I assume I didn’t say it. Bankrolled is a word used by journalists to make a payment of any kind seem seedy. A policy making process should be a conversation and communicating priorities does not mean they are accepted.

You told the reporters they could even come up with their own idea for a policy group for the party in exchange for funding and suggested Government efficiencies as a good area.

A policy group would have to meet the aims of the Conservative Party only then would it be set up and a secretariat appointed. Government efficiencies are indeed a good idea as we face a massive structural deficit.

You said they could use their influence over such a group to benefit their business strategy by pushing for the sale of the Royal Mail and other assets.

Again I haven’t been quoted here and using the word “pushing” is suggesting something underhand.

Please respond by email with any comments that you wish to make on the above points by 6pm on Friday.

No, thank you. I have responded here on my blog.

Yours sincerely,

Really?


Heidi Blake

I thought your name was Hayley.

12 comments:

  1. Well done in my book these underhand tricks by so called journalists is equal t the private investigator who hacked phones and previous ones who went through dustbins.

    Parasites come to mind they should be charged with bringing journalism into disrepute

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  2. Grubby. Lovely response.
    as per my linkedin comment think i'll be giving murdochs Sunday Times a swerve for a while........

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  3. Good for you! Sounds like entrapment. No doubt they'll bend your words to fit their agenda. It's whizzing round the Twitteraphere now so Sunday morning is going to be late to the party! Stopped buying the ST well over one year ago.

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    1. It's always more interesting to see the videos. Then we can make up our own minds,

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  4. You should publish that 40k proposal they're going on about. That'll spike their guns.

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  5. Good for you. This isn't journalism -- a 25 year old who hasn't been in journalism very long and wants to make a quick name is being let loose here. First, to lie to get a story is cheap and demeans all the talented and hard-working journalists who toll each and every day to uncover the truth. Many journalists, some even at this very publication, risk and even lose their lives to do important work. And for what?
    Hopefully, this reporter will one day learn that to gain respect in this field, you have to do the work; uncover the truth; but do it in a way the doesn't demean the process and all the incredibly talented reporters who have come before her cheap version of investigative journalism.
    We will wait and see what is included in this story and what is edited out. Concerning the level of professionalism so far, we can only assume it will go for a cheap thrill.
    In the end, as anyone who has worked in journalism knows, and why this is all the sadder, the real shame is that experienced editors, from the bottom to the top of paper, are allowing this level of shoddy and unbalanced journalism into a once esteemed publication.
    In the light of the day, there is nothing to be proud about here.

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  6. Great - now send this to the Sunday Telegraph

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  7. Good article.

    I have not bought any Murdoch-owned newspaper, ever. I ceased 'taking' The Times, daily and Sunday, when his company acquired it; I used to be a regular reader of both. Nor do I subscribe to 'Sky' or any other product with which he is associated.

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  8. Fair enough. Did you talk to them about Royal Mail?

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  9. Why didn't you leave the room if they continually pushed to 'buy' access?

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  10. I hoped that my answers, offering a transparent way to positively engage in British politics and debate, would win them over to approach any political party in the correct way.

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