Exaro News back from the dead


The old Exaro News is dead but not buried


The new Exaro logo


The British companies, Exaronews Ltd and Exaro Holdings Ltd were both dissolved by June 21 this year ending the existence of Exaro News as an entity in the UK.

However the website was put up for auction and is now owned by a Brit living in North America.

As a result the news site has been relaunched under new management outside UK jurisdiction. The current site is running with a standard newsfeed.

The good news for readers of this blog is that almost the entire archive of Exaro from 2011 to 2016 has been put back on the internet by the new owner. If you want to find any of the articles written by me go to https://www.exaronews.com/  and look under UK News. Scroll down to  news archive, click on it and then click on my name to retrieve any story  I have written in the past five years.

This is the only place you can find the archive of Exaro News as the site has been excluded from the Wayback Machine and is no longer available.

At the same time my blogs which are normally cross posted on https://www.byline.com/  are now  -using new machine technology –  automatically appearing on the exaronews site. Those wanting to read the full blog rather than excepts  from exaro are redirected back to byline.com  or to my site.

The first blog covered by this  ( and put up yesterday) is the Crown Prosecution Service  statement which says without comment that ” Nick” is now facing  multiple charges of perverting the course of justice for all the allegations he made against prominent politicians and senior military officers in an alleged Westminster paedophile ring. So until the trial is over the old  archived stories should be treated with caution.

The new arrangement  should enhance the capacity of this blog to reach many more readers particularly in North America . Since some of the issues raised – such as the raising of the pension age particularly for women , child sexual abuse, politics,  Whitehall waste and various health and social security scandals- are international.

In the case of the 50s women  who have to wait up to six years for a pension this is  an issue across Europe and is also to be raised at the United Nations.


Exaro: What next?



Most people have been shocked at the sudden closure of the Exaro website. Excepting trolls and troll websites that is.It means the  end of an outlet for a cutting edge form of investigative journalism. It certainly made waves  – whether on controversial allegations of child sex abuse and paedophile rings, the Dame Janet Smith findings, tax avoidance, and  media stories like the ” Rupert Murdoch ” tapes.

And it is worth saying  that the owner Jerome Booth, generously funded the site for five years without ever interfering in the editorial content.

Every effort will be made by Mark Conrad and me to see that  these investigations and more will continue and we are having conversations with a number of people on what we do next – whether using the Exaro site or with other media organisations.

But I thought a couple of points should be made to ensure people don’t get the wrong idea.

First, conspiracy theorists please note, the site has not been closed down because of its coverage of the child sex abuse allegations and by hints from dark forces. It is purely the result of a wider financial decision

Second, the site was not scheduled for closure when its former editor in chief, Mark Watts, was first made redundant and then dismissed. Nor at that time were other people expected to lose their jobs. Logically you would not appoint new people to run a  site if you wanted to close it.

Indeed we both had plans for developing new challenging stories  which first appeared in the last few weeks and there were more in the pipeline. We were also looking at new commercial ideas and partners to fund the site.

This has paradoxically put us in a good position to examine alternatives for the future. We are also  looking out for opportunities for Exaro staff who were there at the time of the closure so this excellent team can continue their investigations.

All I can say is watch this space. I am not commenting further  on the  sad and traumatic events of this week. There is the chance of a new era ahead.


Leak of Dame Janet Smith report on Savile and the BBC nominated for national media award

My  set of stories for Exaro News earlier this year revealing the contents of Dame Janet Smith’s report on Jimmy Savile’s activities at the BBC  has been nominated for a national media award.

The series of stories have been short listed in the breaking news story of the year  for next month’s Drum On Line Media awards – pitching it against TV coverage of the Shoreham air crash , the Alton Towers disaster and the BBC’s coverage of the Paris terror attacks.

The report which was highly critical of the culture at the BBC that allowed  Jimmy Savile to flourish. By the day after Exaro published the report every national paper was carrying the story.

The leaked report revealed how Dame Janet Smith, the retired judge who led the review, condemned BBC culture over Savile’s paedophile activities at the Corporation. She criticised the BBC for a “very deferential culture”, its “untouchable” stars and “above the law” managers.

In a series of articles, Exaro revealed how BBC employees were too afraid to report Savile to managers, and how BBC people feared blowing the whistle even more now.

The series of articles also exposed a BBC culture where celebrities were treated with “kid gloves” while managers drank heavily, and how the Smith review warned that “a predatory child abuser could be lurking undiscovered in the BBC even today.

The series of 22 stories published on the same day revealed how more than 100 BBC employees told Smith that they heard about Savile’s predatory sexual conduct, and how the review raised evidence of sexual abuse at Top of the Pops that went far wider than Savile.

Exaro also published more than 37,500 words of extracts from Smith’s entire report.

I have no idea whether  we will win the award but the short listing of the  Exaro articles show that investigative journalism is still alive at a time when Exaro has taken criticism from other national media for its coverage of other controversial issues like the child sex abuse scandal.

I would also like to pay tribute to my brave source and my colleagues at Exaro particularly Alex Varley Winter. Without the leak of the story people would not have been so well informed on the day when the report was published and Dame Janet Smith had to account for her report and the BBC director general, Tony Hall, had to explain what he was going to do about it.


An important read: Why Exaro director Tim Pendry feels we should continue to investigate the Westminster paedophile ring

JusticiaI am reproducing this comment from  Tim Pendry one of Exaro’s directors, following the BBC Panorama programme last night. It tries to put into context the current investigation into child sex abuse. I have my own views and may do a blog myself later.


[This personal statement on the current ‘smear campaigns’ being undertaken against the Founders of Exaro and against Exaro itself was published on my Personal Blog at the weekend. There may be more to say on the innuendo employed in that smear campaign but not at this time. Exaro must be allowed to continue its investigative work, as must the police, into allegations of child abuse by significant persons without further distraction. If the allegations are not true, then Exaro and the Police will eventually find out and say so. And if they are true … ]

When I created ExaroNews I had no idea of where it would lead. Its purpose was simply to ‘hold power to account’ through investigative journalism under the leadership of an honest editor … a type in our society who is as valuable as an honest cop. We found that honest editor in Mark Watts.

The next stage was to get funding and this we did. What few seem to understand is that the funding came with a condition on our part – no interference by the shareholders in editorial decision-making. There was no quarrel with this and I signed away my own ability to tell Mark what to do, neither to cajole nor to threaten.

A risk was taken by us that he would continue to maintain the highest journalistic standards and not be frightened by the brute weight of the political establishment, of the dark forces to be found in every society or of rival media embarrassed that Exaro would achieve what they had signally failed to do – hold power to account – despite their massively greater resources.

Exaro does not have massive resources but it has had sufficient resources to follow through on what has become one of the biggest investigations of our age – allegations that child abuse and worse (if anything can be worse) were covered up by the powerful. This was the decision of the editorial team and no one else.

Those who followed the Kincora Case are fully aware of what very small groups of people within the system are capable of. One should not ever assume that institutions are necessarily acting in our interest simply because that is what they claim that they are doing. To me (as an outsider), it was always reasonable that they should investigate this matter much as they have investigated many other matters.

At no time (to my knowledge) has Exaro pre-judged the issue in regard to the child abuse allegations – the police once used an unfortunate turn of phrase but that is not the responsibility of Exaro. Exaro appears to have listened to claims and undertaken what investigation it could, reasonably publishing the results. Even to suggest (as one blogger appears to have done) that Exaro had the power or influence to initiate police investigations is almost comically absurd.

The mainstream media’s initial approach to Exaro was to try and kill it by ignoring it. Its ability to set the agenda has emerged as a result of editorial persistence. The police make their own decisions on what is worthy of investigation from their perspective and what is not. The allegations have clearly been taken seriously by the police who, despite the ragged and sensationalist reporting of the mainstream media, have reiterated their own high professional standards in an important statement.

That article is well worth re-reading because it makes it very clear that the police are very concerned about the reporting of witness statements and the risks that the media might prejudice their investigations and later court cases while still managing to assert their belief in the importance of the responsible media in assisting investigations.

The publication by Exaro of this police statement in full (which no other media have done despite their public interest claims) is taken by me to mean that Exaro is in in agreement with it. Subsequent public comment by the Editor of Exaro on Twitter suggests that he remains concerned about the conduct of other media in relation to the witnesses and any pre-judgment of investigations. He must speak for himself – I cannot.

The allegations are also taken seriously by some prominent and rather politically brave politicians – it is gratifying that their courage has not halted their careers. Being taken seriously by police, leading politicians and Exaro does not make allegations true but it does make them worthy of investigation in a free and open society. If not, we may as well be in a closed dictatorship.

It must be made clear that at no time (despite my own close interest in the subject of which the Editor knew nothing) have I had any say or influence in the subject matter of the investigation. Neither I nor any Director were consulted on the investigation at its inception or since. I have no idea whether the allegations are true or false. I consider it reasonable, by the very nature of things, that mistakes may have been made or could yet be made but also that the allegations are far from being easily dismissed.

Everything I have read to date (noting that this has been going on now for some two years or so) suggests that Exaro and, entirely separately, the investigating police officers have cause to be interested in the allegations, have no political angle whatsoever, are professionally committed to what they are doing in their very different spheres and are utterly right to reveal any possibility of wrong-doing in the public interest in order to explore the evidential base for claims.

One is not naive – I am aware of past scandals such as the absurd satanic abuse claims of several decades ago. The possibility of such phenomena as false memory or political manipulation has to be taken into account but the right approach is not to walk away but to investigate even these possibilities rationally and in an evidence-based way, especially in the wake of the Jimmy Savile Scandal which the BBC signally failed to investigate adequately while it was happening on its very door step. In my opinion, the BBC lacks all credibility in this area and should stand down.

My own interest is now simply as an observer while others are engaged in serious professional struggles that might have equally serious reputational consequences for them if they do get it wrong. That is their risk – I don’t actually share that risk. But let me give one solid reason why I suggest that the investigation may have merit and it is this.

If the investigation had no merit, I would not personally be subject, over many months, to repeated and aggressive internet attacks on my integrity based on half-truths and failures to obtain the facts directly from me (it is not as if I am hidden on the internet), including attacks on relatives of mine using innuendo.

The flow of false claims about Exaro and the individuals involved in Exaro suggest that we are seeing a campaign of deliberate attempted destabilisation of the investigations in which some mainstream media have now found themselves to be ‘useful idiots’. These mainstream journalists too must investigate but they should equally investigate the sources for the claims against the investigation. In this world of smoke and mirrors, this is becoming a test case about the sort of journalism we want in our country and so of the sort of politics and justice we are prepared to tolerate.

I am personally subject to these attacks simply because I founded Exaro News and own a minority stake in the Holding Company that owns it. That is all. It is a form of political terrorism because the aim is to create fear and anxiety surrounding reputation. The attackers seem to believe that, by attacking me, they can destabilise Exaro. They do not seem to realise that, no matter what they say about me or members of my family or my businesses or my politics, I have no power to stop any investigation even if I wished to do so – and I do not.

The nature of those personal attacks – which it seems involved hiring private investigators (who seem to have done a very poor job) to build a dossier on me (and others) which included family members – indicates that someone is rattled by these investigations. It suggests that the investigations are dangerous to someone. It suggests, on that basis alone, that the investigations are worthwhile.

Here, I write in a wholly personal capacity. I do not speak for Exaro Holdings, I do not speak for Exaro News. I speak only for an individual who has no regrets whatsoever in having kick-started an organisation, now wholly editorially independent of me and which has been so since its formation as a Company, that is prepared to turn up stones to see what lies beneath them.

I cannot take responsibility for the investigations which means I cannot take either the blame or the credit for what happens next. What I will do is say that, on the balance of probabilities and on the very fact of the attacks on me in the undergrowth of the internet, Mark Watts seems to have struck a nerve. I hope that he and his hardworking team continue to refuse to be brow-beaten as I will refuse to be brow-beaten.

Secret Murdoch recording : Exaro nominated in 2013 British Journalism Awards

Exaro has been nominated for the the ‘breaking news award’, marking the ‘best story of the year’ in the 2013 British Journalism awards.
The tale which came from one of my sources revealed what Murdoch really thought about the phone hacking and bribery scandals and disclosed his fury about the police investigation.
There is also a tale on this site.
The story put together under Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor, was a team effort with a lot of input from Alex Varley-Winter.
Separately Fiona O’Cleirigh has been nominated for her series on Coiste for the ‘new journalist of the year’. The story was about £1.3m EU aid being given to an ex IRA prisoners group.
The full list of nominations are on the UK Press Gazette’s website.
AS you can see there will be stiff competition from the nationals but last year Exaro did achieve a breakthrough when I won Political Journalist of the year for the exposure of Ed Lester’s tax arrangements while he was head of the Student Loans Company.

Exaro News: Pay wall scrapped – It’s all free

You can now read all my stories and many other good scoops on the Exaro website free of charge.
Just like my old employer The Guardian and unlike Rupert Murdoch’s Sun and Times there is no longer a pay wall between you and the story.
So go to the site and see and hear the full private Murdoch ” tape”; all the stories about Ed Lester, the former head of the Student Loans Company now at the Land Registry and his tax avoidance; all the stories on the Operation Fernbridge historic paedophile investigation; the government’s flawed plan to abolish the Audit Commission and embarrassing disclosures about the activities of the Serious Fraud Office.
Exaro is now funding its activities with a big expansion in data journalism -aimed at business.
Go on indulge yourself!

Will data journalism save investigative journalism?

The collapse of the print media and the rise of the free internet is threatening to destroy the income that allows traditional journalism to thrive.

As papers  and TV cut and cut again staff  they have fewer and fewer  resources to scrutinise and investigate government, business, crime and the dodgy guys have a much greater chance of getting away with it.

So just like the ancient search for the Holy Grail  journalists have been looking for a way to fund their time-consuming and expensive investigative operations. Some have sought world-wide alliances like Alan Rusbridger,editor of The Guardian, to bring an international flavour – like the Prism survellience scandal – to journalism. Others like Rupert Murdoch have thought pay walls  and monopoly control will fund journalism.

But they might just be a third way. The government’s decision enthusiastically endorsed by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, to open up data has provided an amazing opportunity for a new breed of journalists – data journalists – to exercise their amazing mathematical  and computer savvy skills- and create new stories. But they have also opened up an extraordinary lucrative way to raise cash from business for a tailor-made service to meet their individual needs.

Exaro, the news organisation, who employ me on a freelance basis, may have just found the answer to marry this. By exploiting government data  Exaro’s data journalists have  produced a major story on the state of liquidations in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ( see http://www.exaronews.com/articles/5008/liquidations-are-running-at-four-times-level-before-credit-crunch ). But this journalism led investigation – by Tim Wood, Henry Taylor and George Arnett – also has a very lucrative spin-off that may bring an income worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

As Jasper Jackson ( son of the late Mark Jackson. my friend and one of Fleet Street’s great colourful  journalist characters) discloses ( see http://www.themediabriefing.com/article/exclusive-exaro-news-channels-investigative-journalism-into-data-products) the possibilities of a tailor-made service that can change the finances.

As Mark Watts, editor in chief of Exaro, puts it: ”

“There are data journalism teams out there, but they traditionally don’t worry about making things commercial. What we are doing is rather different because it is journalists who are doing it, generating material for editorial purposes, but in the same breath doing it for commercial purposes.

The editorial aspect is important. The data interrogation techniques are very specific and journalists are also able to present things in a meaningful way. There is a sense of having to distil it, and make sense of the data.”

So have we discovered the Holy Grail, the way to break stories, subsidise other important investigations, without compromising editorial integrity? Francis Maude may have to put up with data journalism providing an income stream enabling us to investigate  and scrutinise him and Cabinet ministers even more thoroughly. A double-edged sword at times.

My Political Journalist of the Year Award: Praise be the Whitehall moles

Revealed: My secret source in Whitehall Pic Credit:BBC

Revealed: My secret source in Whitehall Pic Credit:BBC

Today I am really thrilled to win Political Journalist of  the Year Press Gazette awards for Exaro News -award  last night.

But the real tribute should go to a couple of fearless Whitehall moles who put me on the trail of the story  of massive tax avoidance at the heart of Whitehall.

While journalists must never reveal  their sources, there is at least one good tip from this for journos pursuing questionable deals done in Whitehall.

And it came from first source. He was the originator of the suggestion that senior people in Whitehall had set up  highly complicated arrangements to avoid paying any tax and national insurance. And he had heard a rumour  that one of the most grotesque examples was a recent appointment to the top job at the Students Loan Company. A left of centre character who firmly believed in the ethos of public service  he was worried that Whitehall was being corrupted by the widespread tax avoidance. We now know it is rife.

But rather than leak information which breaks the Whitehall rules we devised a different strategy. Between us we drafted a targeted freedom of information request to the Student loans Company and Vince Cable’s Department for Business  which would make it very difficult for either department to deny. During our meetings at various hostelries across London – I won’t divulge his favourite malt  in case the Whitehall thought police try to trace him- we developed the story.

Sure enough after a suitable interval back came some 60 pages of complicated e-mail traffic between Bis, the Student Loans Company, the Cabinet Office and more surprising, the outside advice from private management consultants – one paper was volunteered because they were worried we would distort their opinions – and even letters from Revenue and Customs approving the arrangement. We spent further hours  at certain hostelries analysing the results which were far worse than he thought. We spent much more time chasing up every conceivable angle before Exaro and BBC Newsnight  were ready to go with the tale.

The result was immediate. Ed Lester, the head of the Student Loans Company, had his tax arrangement stopped and Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury who had personally approved his salary had to admit he didn’t even spot the tax avoidance. He ordered a Whitehall wide inquiry.

But it was not all over.  The inquiry identified 2500 civil servants on similar deals. But had they gone too far? Enter a new mole from another part of Whitehall.  Seeing Danny Alexander’s letter to George Osborne he was furious. He felt Alexander had caught too many in his net, including genuine freelances  having bona fide reasons for working this way. This guy, a mischievous right of centre social libertarian character who enjoy’s Guido Fawkes blog, decided the world should know before Danny had a chance. Hence another story for Exaro News and BBC Newsnight.

One might feel sorry for Danny – damned if he doesn’t, damned if he does. Except of course while we all suffer his cuts  paradoxically he has never been so wealthy in his life as a Cabinet minister. And he has lots of  dinners with his chum. George Osborne.

Good for him though in ordering the inquiry. But the greatest thing of all is that he couldn’t cover this up even if he wanted to – thanks to the use of freedom of information. No wonder Jack Straw and Tony Blair now regret giving the public and journos the chance to find out what is really going on government.

Grant Shapps: The man killing the public right to expose another Dame Shirley Porter

Grant Shapps: Abolishing the public's right to object

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, and Grant Shapps, the housing minister, will shortly be publishing the government’s response to their consultation on the rather boring subject of holding councils to account after they have closed down the Audit Commission.

Hidden in this rather dense document is a rather nasty proposal which seems to go against everything they stand for in opening up councils to scrutiny. The ministers are on record in wanting to encourage armchair auditors, more localism, more public rights, openness, you name it.

Eric Pickles is even a  fan of my friend Mrs Angry- a thorny red rose in the side of true blue Barnet Council- much to chagrin of Brian Coleman and his friends.

 So it rather bizarre that top Tory politicians should include a measure to abolish a 150 year old right that brought to light one of the worst scandals in local government.

Dame Shirley: Would have been saved by Grant Shapps. Pic courtesy:busheywood.com

 The exposure of Dame Shirley Porter in the 1990s for the infamous ” homes for votes ” scandal that included ” gerrymandering ” votes by selling council homes in Tory marginal seats was only possible because of a public right to force an auditor to investigate.

As the report says: “Members of the public currently have rights to question the auditor of an audited body about its accounts and raise objections… in respect of unlawful items of account or matters on which the auditor can make a report in the public interest..

Auditors have only limited discretion to refuse to investigate objections, but the costs of investigating objections, which are recovered from the local public body and, therefore, funded by council taxpayers, can be disproportionate to the sums involved in the complaint, or to the normal audit costs of the local public body.”

This rarely used power is now being scrapped because  as the paper says: “we consider that the rights for local government electors to object to the accounts are both outdated and over-burdensome on auditors, local public bodies and council tax payers.”

So  effectively Pickles and Shapps are saying it is too burdensome  for auditors to expose corruption and certainly not in the interest of local people to have the power to force the auditor to do it. One wonders why ministers are so keen to do this. Are they expecting more corruption? Do they not want the most forensic skilled person – the auditor – to examine accounts but rather as they propose go to lay people like the Information Commissioner and the local government ombudsman to do it? Or is Mr Shapps repealing this measure as a gift to a  secret fellow Tory heroine of his, Dame Shirley?

 I think we deserve to be told. You could try to get answers. Grant Shapps is a great user of Twitter, so you may send a tweet to @grantshapps. Eric Pickles is more old twentieth century and not very techy but he does have an email address, eric.pickles@communities.gsi.gov.uk.

 In the meantime I have written a full piece – one of five – on life after the Audit Commission – on the new Exaro News website. The link is  http://bit.ly/n8vRpc .

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