From the outset, I would like to make clear that I have both a legitimate personal and public interest argument for outing the author of the Twitter account @TabloidTroll (aka ‘tabloidman’) in that the account has been used (a) to libel me, and (b) to engage in abusive and circumstantial ad hominem attacks on a series of witnesses/contributors to the Leveson Inquiry, including Richard Peppiatt, Tom Watson, Hugh Grant, and those attached to the Guardian, the Media Standards Trust, and the ‘Hacked Off’ campaign.
The author of the @TabloidTroll account portrays himself as an ‘industry mole’ and this kind of behaviour as ‘whistle blowing’, even to the extent of claiming that outing him would be a criminal offence under something he calls the ‘Whistleblower Act’. This is a risk I am willing to take, not least because the Whistleblower Protection Act only applies in the United States, and though here in the UK we do have something called the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, it has no bearing on my position, or what I am about to disclose.
Last Sunday, a Direct Message was sent to the registered account holder for @TabloidTroll. It contained a unique URL leading to a page on my website. The recipient visited that URL, and my site, and replied to the DM confirming that he had done this.
Very soon after this, I emailed Dennis Rice of Dennis Rice Media Limited (Twitter: @DennisRiceMedia, Site: moneyforyourstory.com, Company No: 06646525) and asked him for his response to the already-public allegations that he was the author of @TabloidTroll.
The IP address of the person who received the Direct Message for @TabloidTroll (and subsequently visited my site) was exactly the same as that used by Dennis Rice to read and respond to my email.
Here we turn to key extracts* from the relevant correspondence, and I will remind you that at this stage, Dennis Rice is only responding to the already-public allegations that he is the author of Tabloid Troll:
(*There were further questions put to Dennis Rice that I choose not to publish at this time, mainly to keep this article focused on the core evidence, and not what I may or may not suspect about motive, or his involvement in further anonymous accounts.)
Dennis… Do you have any comment to make about your alleged involvement with the Twitter account ‘@TabloidTroll’? On what basis would you claim/imply that the anonymity of someone behind an account like @TabloidTroll is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act?
Dear Tim – I am of course aware of Tabloidman, as I follow his/her tweets. I certainly am not, nor have ever been, him/her. Any suggestion that I am would be both untrue and damaging to my freelance employment in the national press and to my personal reputation. As regards the Whistleblower Act I have to confess I am unaware of such an Act – though I am prepared to take you on your word that such an Act exists. I have not the faintest idea how one could apply it to Twitter… Hope this clears this up for you. Best Regards, Dennis.
Thank you, Dennis, for your reply. I would like to be very clear on your denial, if you don’t mind… Would you consider it correct and accurate to say that aside from following the account on Twitter using @dennisricemedia, you have NO connection to the @TabloidTroll account at all? That it’s not run by you, or anyone close/known to you? That’s it’s not an account you have any access to in any way?
Dear Tim – I am not Tabloidman, or whatever he/she is called. I repeat that stating I am would be profoundly damaging. That is all I am going to say on the matter. My lawyers will deal with anything anyone would be foolish enough to print – alleging or otherwise – that I am. Thanks for your time.
Note that the second denial pulls up short of denying a connection to the @TabloidTroll account that might include a claim that an unnamed ‘friend’ runs the account (i.e. in much the same way that Andrew Gilligan claimed that an unnamed “partner” was behind a sock puppet using the name ‘kennite’ to praise his work and attack his enemies).
Note also that at this stage, Dennis Rice has no clue that the IP data he has just provided indicates that he is the main account holder for @TabloidTroll when it is balanced against the Direct Message to that account and the subsequent visit to a unique URL on my site.
So on Monday I emailed Dennis Rice, as per my obligations as a publisher, in an attempt to disclose and discuss not the mere allegation of his connection to the @TabloidTroll account, but the evidence tying him to it:
My apologies for bothering you with a further question, but my website statistics show a visit from your IP/device yesterday. Would you mind awfully confirming which page(s) you visited, when you visited them, and how you came to be aware of the URL you visited first last night?
The email was read, but Dennis Rice offered no reply.
However, soon after this, the @TabloidTroll account was used to make contact with the Twitter account that sent the Direct Message containing the URL/visit that Dennis Rice had just been asked about; this message from @TabloidTroll requested the phone number of the sender of the Direct Message (!) and when this was refused with a counter offer of email correspondence, contact ceased.
So on Wednesday I contacted Dennis Rice again by email:
Dear Dennis – Let us both acknowledge the reason why you have no ready answer for your visit to my site on Sunday and simultaneously cut to the chase: I intend to publish an article naming you as the person behind @tabloidtroll on Twitter and would be grateful if you could answer the following questions… [snip questions]… I require a response by 5pm on Thursday 27th April 2012.
The email was read (this time from three vastly different locations in the UK), but there was no reply.
By this time, Richard Peppiatt and Tom Watson had been advised of my findings, and my intention to publish them.
On Friday, the @TabloidTroll account was used to have yet another anonymous pop at Tom Watson, and Tom responded with a probing question based on his knowledge of an undisclosed settlement paid to Dennis Rice by News International. Key tweets from the relevant exchange appear below.
(If you are a regular here at Bloggerheads, you are about to experience a glorious pay-off. Pun intended.)
tom_watson – @tabloidtroll when did you last receive a payment from news international?
tabloidtroll – @tom_watson saying I am in the pay of News Int is also actionable. Whatever happened to the days when our MPs had brains? Deep sigh.
tom_watson – @tabloidtroll Did you not get your settlement for appearing in Glenn’s notebooks? No need to answer.
tabloidtroll – @tom_watson @dennisricemedia Ha, not you too? Ricey told me about the loon stalking him. Be careful of the company you keep.
tabloidtroll – @tom_watson Think Thames Valley Police will want to talk to you. They are currently investigating your (clearly unchecked) source.
1. ‘Ricey’. Because they’re mates. Not the same person, but mates. (rolls eyes) On that note, here’s one of my very favourite tweets; ‘Ricey’ bigging it up for his old mate @TabloidTroll (in reponse to a series of tweets about ‘Hacked Off’ including ugly insinuations about the Guardian and the Scott Trust, the Financial Times and Pearson, the Media Standards Trust, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs):
dennisricemedia – I think @tabloidtroll is raising some interesting questions tonight. We shouldn’t have a body asking for more accountability yet not itself
2. I immediately checked with Thames Valley Police and I can confirm what most regulars will already suspect, given the reliable patterns of behaviour exhibited by those who seek to gain personally or politically from the use of multiple/false identities:
a) Yes, after initially denying it, when confronted with hard evidence linking him to a web account used to bully people anonymously, Dennis Rice went to police and accused me of criminal behaviour. The exact nature of the allegation is unknown at this stage, but it would appear to centre on harassment, and not the phantom Whistleblower Act.
b) Yes, Dennis Rice also declared there to be a police investigation in progress (implying some level of guilt on my part) when all that had happened at that stage was he had contacted police, and his complaint had been logged by police.
Should an officer be assigned to the matter on the basis that a potential crime is suspected, I look forward to discussing the matter with them and inviting them to investigate the matter so fully as to determine the likely authorship of the @tabloidtroll account for themselves… assuming that Lord Justice Leveson doesn’t take an interest before then.
Well, I’ve kept you long enough already. Those who are uncertain about the full ramifications of Dennis Rice being intimately involved with the @TabloidTroll account (if not the sole author of same) are invited to search for ‘tabloidtroll’ using Snapbird (which will give you access to some 2000+ tweets much faster than Twitter will) and comparing the output to that of ‘dennisricemedia’.
You may also choose to balance this against the kind of material Dennis Rice produces and the publications he sells this material to.
On a final note, touching for but a moment on my own chosen profession, you are also invited to witness the first tweets by Dennis Rice and gaze in wonder at the emergence of an SEO and online marketing genius (link):
UPDATE – The twitter account previously at @DennisRiceMedia has been renamed and rendered private, robbing the public of the capacity to balance that output against that of @TabloidTroll. Aw.
UPDATE (24 May) – Near to a month has been wasted while I have patiently waited for Thames Valley Police to respond to a complaint from Dennis Rice, but I rather suspect that this was the point of the exercise. Through @tabloidtroll, Dennis even declared there to be an investigation in progress when there was no investigation (i.e. as if his call to police triggered an immediate response that somehow established my guilt). Here’s a sample of relevant tweets:
Technically, an investigation did take place very recently (and very briefly), but in the words of Thames Valley Police I was “not a suspect” and they had “no intention of interviewing me or anything like that”. So, now that Thames Valley Police have established what any experienced reporter should have known all along, I present to you the complete and unedited contents of the email from me that Dennis Rice portrayed as a ‘nuisance message’ before pretending that police suspected my acts to be criminal in nature:
To: Dennis Rice
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 1:14 PM
Let us both acknowledge the reason why you have no ready answer for your visit to my site on Sunday and simultaneously cut to the chase:
I intend to publish an article naming you as the person behind @tabloidtroll on Twitter and would be grateful if you could answer the following questions:
1. Have you received payments from any subsidiary or associated companies of News Corporation in each/either of the last two years?
2. You were named as a target for Glenn Mulcaire. Have you received any out of court settlements from News Corporation or subsidiary or associated companies? If yes, did you sign a confidentiality agreement?
3. Have you been commissioned to write articles, provide commentary or produce content for social media regarding the hacking scandal and the people involved with the investigation?
4. Have you been contracted to work for any PR companies who are contracted to News Corporation or any of its subsidiary or associated companies?
5. Is there anything else you would like to say regarding your decision to establish a pseudonymous twitter account?
6. To what extent were you inspired by Glen Jenvey in your ‘sell your story’ initiative, which you must recognise is very similar to his?
(Note: Jenvey began sellyourstory.org in July 2008, I reported that initiative on my site in January 2009, and moneyforyourstory.com was registered in February 2009)
7. Would you care to clarify or retract your remarks – published through the @tabloidtroll account – about my “sinister” conduct as a blogger, the “little dodgy stunts” you claim to have seen evidence of in multiple copies of Private Eye, and my behaviour toward Patrick Mercer in relation to what you describe as the “manipulation” of an unnamed “far right activist”?
I require a response by 5pm on Thursday 27th April 2012.
For the record, the only answer Dennis Rice has offered to any of these questions is; “Help! Police!”
Well, police don’t think it’s any of their business, despite what Mr Rice claimed through the ‘Tabloid Troll’ account, so he is invited once again to answer any or all of them.
(Sorry it’s in public this time, Dennis old bean, but you brought this on yourself. If you want the luxury of private questions or advance notice of anything I intend to publish about you in future, the onus is on you to either clarify your position regarding your willingness to accept correspondence, or provide me with contact details for a lawyer or equally appropriate third party. You know how to reach me.)