Over two years ago, in April 2012 to be precise, I became aware of a Twitter account by an anonymous tabloid journalist: @tabloidtroll.
While maintaining pretensions of whistle-blowing, @tabloidtroll actually sought to attack those outside the industry who highlighted or criticised wrongdoing within it. This included campaigners for press reform, critics of tabloid excess, and even police officers who dared to arrest journalists alleged to have engaged in such excesses to a criminal degree.
Psychological projection was evident from the outset. In a series of circular arguments, the author engaged in trolling, abusive and circumstantial ad hominem attacks on a range of targets and justified these attacks with allegations that his targets had engaged in trolling, abusive and circumstantial ad hominem attacks on himself and/or others. Those who dared to object to such treatment were accused of seeking to bully the author into silence.
Relevant distortions became increasingly bold and pronounced over time. For example: an objection to the treatment of Milly Dowler’s family would be characterised as ‘trolling journalists with a dead girl’.
There was also a clear pattern of targeting critics first with the allegation of bias, then of abusive behaviour, and ultimately some form of financial impropriety, which was usually used as a premise for contacting their employer(s), client(s), donor(s), etc. – all based on nothing but piss and wind.
Very early in the piece, I obtained IP evidence that demonstrated that a tabloid journalist by the name of Dennis Rice was the main account holder. I then confronted that journalist about my findings.
Dennis Rice responded by saying: “My lawyers will deal with anything anyone would be foolish enough to print – alleging or otherwise – that I am (@tabloidtroll)”
But I never did hear from those lawyers, even after publishing my findings. Instead, Dennis Rice made a complaint to Thames Valley Police alleging that I had stalked and harassed him and mishandled private data. The @tabloidtroll account was then used to announce that I was under police investigation. When this investigation closed without action Rice simply made another complaint and repeated the process. Thames Valley Police are very clear that I was “never a suspect” but they declined to investigate any potential waste of police time on the grounds that Rice had not wasted enough time for it to be worth their time.
(Note – Rice uses the word ‘stalker’ according to his needs. As @tabloidtroll he accused me of electronically stalking him because he received an alert that I had viewed his ‘Dennis Rice’ LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile, he has demonstrably sought to intimidate other Twitter users through detail he claims to have obtained from LinkedIn, the Land Registry, and even the Electoral Register. Further, these messages assuring others of my guilt – based on his highly inventive reports of a police investigation in progress – appeared alongside allegations that critics of certain other tabloid journalists had forgotten about the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence.)
Also, while publicly challenging me to publish the relevant IP data and thereby ‘prove’ my case, Dennis Rice was first researching and then contacting the employers of (a) parties who had offered to verify my findings, and (b) parties who merely spoke about the quality of the evidence in principle. Rice wrongly alleged that they had mishandled his private data and ‘enabled a stalker’, and to some parties he pretended police involvement to the extent of threatening a potential visit by police to their workplace (i.e. if the employer did not provide an ‘alternative method of contact’ for the accused party). Let me clear on this point: Rice was using a clumsy form of social engineering in order to mine/blag personal data that was none of his business and using an allegation of improper handling of data to do it.
Rice also began to pretend that @tabloidtroll was the work of many journalists, but he repeatedly allowed this fiction to slip through carelessness and the effort was further undermined by a linguistics report comparing the output of @dennisricemedia and @tabloidtroll that showed “multiple significant points of consistency between the output of Dennis Rice and ‘@tabloidtroll'”.
Rice sought to undermine these findings with a series of inventive but wholly flawed arguments, but in the end he settled on the first of a long series of threats (made as @tabloidtroll) to visit me at my home and sort it out ‘in person’. I made it very clear to Mr Rice that any such visit would be inappropriate and unwelcome. He responded by accusing me of cowardice and actually using this to justify his actions; he was not seeking to intimidate a critic, he was facing up to a coward who had sought to intimidate a critic.
Some equally inventive distortions were used to play on my dispute with the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries. Thinly-veiled death threats were being published about me and justified with the false allegation that I had stalked that MP. Rice portrayed my complaint about this as a death threat against Dorries, and several further threats to visit my home followed.
Another party who saw an opportunity to use Rice against me tweeted a public message suggesting that I might be a child rapist. I used a polite private message to ask why they might do such a thing, but the author portrayed my behaviour as ‘abusive’, telegraphing the report to Rice, who of course followed up with a series of threats to turn up and my house and ‘confront the coward’.
By this stage, it was not any mention of his name that set him off, but my mere presence on Twitter. I had stopped blogging and stopped engaging on twitter for weeks and then months at a time. The moment I dared show up online, the threats would commence based on some allegation or another. At times, even the mere fact of my absence would be used against me, as in this example:
TABLOIDTROLL: “Hide all you like, you despicable woman stalking prick, but know I’m coming for you, and its going to get bloody :-)”
Rice had also used the entirely false allegation that my in-laws had bought the house next door for cash as justification for publishing a list of names of people in my extended family. The claim was that I was somehow living a life of privilege while maintaining pretensions of being a working class hero or some such nonsense.
I asked Rice to cease and desist from the outset, pointing out that what he was publishing was as intrusive as it was inaccurate. Rice responded as @tabloidtroll in the following manner:
TABLOIDTROLL: “Message to TT’s stalker about his latest gutless plea: Make Me.”
Seeking a path for legal correspondence that would not lead to similar outbursts, I emailed the lawyer Mark Lewis*, who I knew had acted for Rice at one stage. I asked Lewis if Rice was still a client. Rather than answer this question, Lewis simply forwarded my email on to Rice with a chummy ‘Hope you’re OK’. I know this because Rice then began forwarding the email to multiple recipients and presenting it as evidence that I was harassing him.
Meanwhile, Rice’s attempts to portray me as a privileged outsider extended into associating me with the banking scandal. Rice was so intent on this that he first began referring to my “banker father in law”, but when he subsequently found out that the relevant party had died recently, he immediately switched to referring to my “banker’s widow mother in law”.
You are invited to imagine the emotional impact this had on grieving family members.
Behind the scenes, I had placed my faith in Surrey Police… who proved to be utterly useless and totally ignorant about the relevant technology. Judging by his own account, when attending an interview, Rice showed Surrey Police some tweets that were made on the @tabloidtroll account while he was volunteering in some capacity in a prison (i.e. and therefore without access to a laptop or mobile). The investigating officer simply could not fathom that a tweet might be scheduled for future publication, or that someone might be roped in to tweet on the author’s behalf. Worse, Surrey Police did not regard it to be ‘proportionate’ to investigate the account or its authorship through Twitter, and they even struggled to appreciate the significance of Dennis Rice writing to my employer three days prior to his police interview threatening them with a grand exposé based on a series of absurd allegations.
After that interview turned out rather better than he had been expecting, Rice withdrew the threat, but the exposé turned up anyway… on the website of @tabloidtroll, obviously. In this hatchet job, Rice accused me of ‘betraying’ my employer and promoting my articles by using their facilities to magic them to the top of search results (i.e. as if they did not do so on their own merit, and as if my employers engaged in black-hat SEO). He also accused me of stalking my own clients. One example: Like hundreds of others, I boycotted Tesco products once to protest their position on ‘Workfare'; Rice described this as ‘stalking’ and wrongly claimed that I engaged in this ‘stalking’ while retaining them as a client.
None of this was true, but by now Rice had extended his threats to confront me face to face at either home or work, or even en-route. At one stage he openly offered to share my travel itinerary to any ‘victims of abuse’ who contacted him.
In was in the face of this ongoing escalation and continuing inaction by Surrey Police that I sought to detach myself from my employer before Rice began targeting my workmates as he had my extended family. Rice used visible signs of my departure to support an allegation that his report of my ‘stalking clients’ had led to some discovery or ruling by my employer that supported his argument.
(Nadine Dorries was kind enough to pretend the same thing at the time, and made a big show of contacting the CEO about the allegations, but refrained from publishing their response for reasons that are easy to guess at. Harry Cole and Paul Staines also saw fit to promote the allegations, and again their reasons for endorsing an anonymous hatchet job are no big mystery.)
Rice then used this in a new narrative designed to further undermine the original IP data linking him to the account (e.g. “Your friend Tim initially claimed to have incontrovertible IP address evidence then subsequently refused to show it. And as I understand it later left the employ of an IT firm after it was revealed he was tweeting abuse to the company’s clients, including one Rupert Murdoch**”).
But of course, none of this put the genie back in the bottle, even after Rice wrote to Google seeking the removal of certain search results based on his false allegations of stalking. I had not only determined that Rice was the main account holder using IP data, I had also published further expert evidence demonstrating that he was the primary if not sole author. Often, when Rice tangled with anyone of any substance as @tabloidtroll, they would greet him with a cheery ‘Hello, Dennis!’ and he would feel compelled to yet again go over the allegations against me that he felt undermined the evidence I had published… but his attempts to deny the obvious only made the obvious even more obvious.
Over the past two years, as @tabloidtroll, Rice has progressed from attempts to intimidate and undermine witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry to attempts to intimidate and undermine a reporter who saw fit to live-tweet the recent hacking trial: Peter Jukes.
Peter has repeatedly been treated/threatened with the same attention that I have enjoyed over the past years, and so far the pattern has remained exactly the same; through @tabloidtroll and associated hangers-on, Peter stands accused of bias, abuse, and financial impropriety. It is my understanding that Dennis Rice has grown increasingly anxious about this conduct being documented in Peter’s upcoming book Beyond Contempt.
The blogger Richard Bartholomew has also been singled out for such treatment, up to and including intimidating calls to his mother. It was recent threats to visit the home of Richard’s mother that prompted me to suppress my fear of this individual and reiterate what I could demonstrate about Dennis Rice being the author of @tabloidtroll (example).
Rice responded by using his @dennisricemedia account and his @tabloidtroll account to not only announce that I was under investigation for stalking Nadine Dorries, but even name a specific officer… something he really should have checked with said officer before publishing any such claim. Rice followed this up with a threat to visit the premises of my partner’s new business venture (to ‘look at the dodgy financials’), then assured me that if I did not ‘crawl back under my rock’, he would subject me to further attention.
By this time, myself and others had begun to ask questions about the extent to which the former NOTW editor Neil Wallis*** and one of his drinking buddies had involved themselves in this anonymous bullying.
Shortly after these two developments, for reasons that remain unclear, ‘@tabloidtroll’ announced that he was taking ‘a longish break’ to write a book about his experiences. Rice then rendered the account private and soon after deactivated it, thereby abandoning any pretence that it was maintained by multiple authors.
But Dennis Rice isn’t done. Not by any means.
I am aware of further correspondence from Rice (under his own name) where he seeks to intimidate his critics into silence with vague threats of legal action over unspecified libel(s). Said critics have been assured that their faith in my evidence is misplaced on the grounds that I am mentally unstable and under police investigation for stalking.
However, the more Dennis Rice behaves like this, the more he confirms what has already been said about his behaviour both under his own name and under the guise of @tabloidtroll.
It would be tragic to think that Rice actually believed anything he said about the effort being in defence of journalism; where he has not simply lied about or invented damaging evidence, he has wilfully distorted it or single-sourced it from discredited parties with an obvious agenda. One of the forgeries targeting Richard Bartholomew is so amateurish it’s embarrassing, but Rice is long past caring about such details.
Dennis Rice may well have something to be proud of in the 20+ years he claims to have been conducting journalism, but at present he is no more than a thug, and in the past two years he has amply demonstrated how tabloid journalists can and will behave if they are not subjected to some form of oversight.
(* “Dennis is a really great bloke. Old fashioned journalist. I know him well.” – Mark Lewis)
(** Rupert Murdoch has never been a client of mine, and he never will be.)
(*** I welcome any challenge/discussion about what I allege about Neil Wallis in this article, but I wish to stay well clear of anything potentially prejudicial given recent charges, so please understand the need to avoid that subject or any issue/topic likely to be associated with it.)
UPDATE (August 2014) – Dennis Rice was in such a hurry to delete the evidence that he left his old username abandoned… so 30 days later I was able to register a new account with that same username! It strikes me as somewhat hypocritical that Rice is bragging that he has screen-captured tweets of his targets when he has deleted all of the tweets made using the ‘tabloidtroll’ account (and rendered the account under his own name private), so I suspect that sometime very soon I will put the time in and upload all of his old tweets as a searchable database, and use this same account to announce/distribute the relevant file. Cheers all.