A former British national newspaper editor admits he secretly backed violence by the Irish Republican Army. Did this influence his objectivity?3 March 2021
The revelation from former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade that he “supported the right of the Irish people to engage in armed struggle” via the IRA throughout the 1970s and 1980s has prompted a furious response from many in the industry, reports the Press Gazette.
From 1992 until 2020, Greenslade had also been the media ethics correspondent for The Guardian
The fallout from his article in the British Journalism Review has now prompted him to resign his post as an honorary professor at City University.
In his article he writes:
“…we four found ourselves in complete agreement about the right of the Irish people to engage in armed struggle.
“I came to accept that the fight between the forces of the state and a group of insurgents was unequal and therefore could not be fought on conventional terms. In other words, I supported the use of physical force. In 1976, having belatedly started a university degree course, I began to see comparisons between the Irish republican struggle and similar conflicts elsewhere in the world. In order to pay for my studies, I worked part-time as a sub at the Sunday Mirror. So, naturally, I continued to keep my views on the IRA to myself. However much I believed its tactics to be valid, I could not hope to convince colleagues that the killing of civilians, albeit by accident, was justifiable.”
Asked by Press Gazette whether his views on terrorism disqualified him from teaching ethics, Greenslade said via email: “To have come clean in the 1970s with my beliefs would have rendered me unemployable.
“My opinions did not affect my journalistic work, nor did they affect my university teaching. As many of my more attentive students would surely recall, I was open about being a republican.
“I did nothing more than the scores of journalists who keep their political views to themselves.”
Greenslade wrote a weekly Guardian column on the media from 1992 to 2017, and for ten years (from 2007 to 2017) he wrote a daily blog about journalism for The Guardian.
Greenslade’s frequent criticism of the shortcomings of the industry has prompted many on the receiving end of that criticism to condemn him this week.
Concerns have also been raised that until 2018 Greenslade had a key role in educating journalists and teaching ethics at City University in London, which is considered by many to be the UK’s leading post-graduate journalism university.
While working as a sub-editor at The Sun his views were strongly at odds with that of the paper, but he said he chose to “button my lip” and carry on to pay his mortgage.
- The best journalism of 2020 revealed: British Journalism Awards shortlist
- British Journalism Awards 2019 finalists revealed: ‘Bravery is the quality that shines through’
- The accused: At least 64 UK journalists arrested and/or charged since April 2011
- Choose the right journalism training course – comprehensive guide
He said: “I came to accept that the fight between the forces of the state and a group of insurgents was unequal and therefore could not be fought on conventional terms. In other words, I supported the use of physical force.”
The BJR piece has also shed new light on how, in 1989, Greenslade used subterfuge to pass on possible misinformation to The Sunday Times for its investigation into This Week’s Death on the Rock report on the killing of three IRA members by the SAS.
Questions have also been raised about The Guardian not reporting on the Greenslade article. Greenslade has not written for the title since March 2020.
Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan said: “The Guardian’s been very vocal about media pundits recently, yet when its own media pundit for 30yrs, Roy Greenslade, reveals he was a secret IRA supporter the whole time and backed its murderous terrorism, they don’t say a word in today’s paper. As cowardly as Mr Greenslade.”
Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie was more forthright on Twitter: “ In the Sunday Times he reveals that while working for me at The Sun, editing the Mirror and being a media critic he backed IRA scum killing our people.”
He added: “For decades… the Guardian employed Roy Greenslade as a newspaper commentator to pour a bucket on their competitors. Now their media star has revealed he is in favour of IRA bombings what have they said? Nothing.”
Greenslade was features editor at The Sun working under MacKenzie as editor in the late 1980s. Greenslade left to join the Daily Mirror as editor in 1990.
David Higgerson, chief audience officer of Reach (which publishes Greenslade’s former title the Mirror) said on Twitter: “Is it not odd that the Guardian hasn’t reported the whole Greenslade thing? I mean, they gave him a pulpit on which to pass judgement on the press for such a long time, it seems odd they are just ignoring it now?”
And Daily Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire noted that in a 2014 Guardian comment article, Greenslade was critical of a BBC Spotlight documentary about a woman who was raped by a member of the IRA.
But he had failed to disclose his IRA sympathies in the piece and the fact that he had written for Sinn Fein [political wing of the IRA] newspaper An Phoblacht.
Maguire said: “Writing this was unethical when Roy Greenslade didn’t disclose his IRA support and that’s a big problem for The Guardian.”
Leading freelance journalist and former Independent deputy editor Ian Birrell was also among those to voice concerns on Twitter: “Greenslade gave me my first job on Fleet Street. Although few journalists will be surprised by this confession, it is remarkable he was given a platform to pontificate on journalism ethics by both a national newspaper and a leading graduate school of journalism.”
Former City University students have also condemned Greenslade.
FT Whitehall editor Sebastian Payne shared a link to The Sunday Times article revealing Greenslade’s IRA sympathies and said: “As a former student of Roy Greenslade, this makes me feel deeply sick.”
Another former City University student Tom Goodenough wrote today in The Spectator: “What qualifies Roy Greenslade to lecture students on media ethics? It certainly doesn’t appear to be his own attitude towards telling the truth. When he taught me at City, Greenslade liked to hold forth on the vices of the tabloid press.
“He was quieter on his own red top past, neglecting to often mention his rise to the top of the ranks at the Sun and the Daily Mirror. Nor, too, did he talk much about allegedly having a hand in faking a spot the ball competition.
“It is now clear there was something else Greenslade was eager not to talk about during his long career in journalism: his secret support of the IRA.”
More details of the allegatrions against Greenslade were assembled in this Mail story:
The double life of Professor Pious: IRA-backing Roy Greenslade has spent years lecturing other newspapers on ethics… yet his own shameless duplicity beggars belief, writes GUY ADAMS
- When Boris Johnson was in charge of The Spectator, he accused Roy Greenslade of being part of a secret ‘Republican cell at the heart of The Guardian’
- The Guardian columnist has built a career on high-minded articles accusing rival Fleet Street titles of being tainted by ‘bias’
- But Mr Greenslade was, in fact, every bit as biased as the colleagues he pompously attacked for their alleged agenda
PUBLISHED: 22:48, 28 February 2021 | UPDATED: 14:31, 1 March 2021
When Boris Johnson was in charge of The Spectator, he ran an article accusing Roy Greenslade of being part of a secret ‘Republican cell at the heart of The Guardian’, whose members were conspiring to make it publish ‘editorials that lean alarmingly towards the IRA’.
There followed an almighty stink. First, Mr Greenslade’s editor Alan Rusbridger sent the future prime minister a furious eight-page letter of complaint, in which he vigorously denied the existence of any such pro-IRA group.
Then, in a more public rebuttal, the Guardian published an article suggesting The Spectator’s claims were little more than ‘half-baked gossip’ and hinting that the author of the piece was in fact an ‘MI5/6 asset’ being secretly ‘used’ by intelligence sources to further a malevolent Right-wing agenda.
How foolish Mr Rusbridger looks now. And how terribly he must rue having ever chosen to employ Roy Greenslade, a man whose moral compass seems not to have been even slightly troubled by his knowledge that the newspaper which paid his wages was printing such certifiable nonsense.
That Mr Greenslade, 74, has spent the best part of 40 years delivering stern lectures on journalistic ethics to other people only adds to the delicious irony.+6
That Mr Greenslade was, in fact, every bit as biased as the colleagues he pompously attacked for their alleged agenda seems not to have ever trifled him. Pictured: Roy Greenslade with his wife Noreen Taylor, the former Daily Mirror journalist and mother of actress Natascha McElhone, in 2004
For as both the Guardian’s media columnist and as a professor of journalism at City University, one of Britain’s most prestigious media training grounds, he has built a career on high-minded articles accusing rival Fleet Street titles of being tainted by ‘bias’.
Rarely was he more stern, during these lucrative sinecures, than when attempting to rubbish colleagues on other newspapers about their approach to his own area of expertise: the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In column after column, he would sanctimoniously accuse the Fleet Street establishment of peddling pro-Unionist propaganda.
‘The undeniable truth is that newspapers in Britain have turned bias into an art form,’ read one typical Guardian article. ‘It is second nature. Every story is angled, every quote – often from an unnamed source – is selected to feed the paper’s own political prejudice.’
That Mr Greenslade was, in fact, every bit as biased as the colleagues he pompously attacked for their alleged agenda seems not to have ever trifled him.+6
Another neighbour in Ireland was John Downey, the man later arrested on suspicion of carrying out the 1982 Hyde Park bombing (pictured: the aftermath of the bomb). Mr Greenslade helped pay for his bail
But why should it? For this is a man whose support for Republicanism now looks truly evangelical.
Back in 1994, he even used a column to compare Gerry Adams to Nelson Mandela, on the grounds that both were ‘terrorists’ who had chosen to ‘silence their guns’.
After the Omagh bombing of 1998, in which 29 were killed and more than 200 injured, he published a column suggesting that the real villains of the affair included newspapers seeking to ‘exploit’ the tragedy by calling for the Blair government to now adopt a tougher line on Sinn Fein.
This, he claimed, was exactly what the bombers had wanted. Why so? Because ‘the aim of terrorists everywhere is to sow discord in the ranks of the enemy, to foment over-reaction, to breed repression, to undermine democracy’.
If nothing else, Roy Greenslade was perfectly placed to write about what terrorists really wanted.
For as he has now belatedly admitted, he was at the time living a secret double life: for almost his entire career, as a newspaper editor, columnist, and influential pundit, he was what he calls a ‘complete’ supporter of the IRA’s ‘armed struggle’.+6
When the case came to court, it was reported that John Downey, pictured, (a shellfish farmer) supplied the Greenslade family with their regular supply of oysters. Over the years, as these and other friendships grew, Mr Greenslade’s status as a sort of honorary Irishman became something of a running joke among friends and relatives. Pictured: John Downey arriving at the Old Bailey in 2014
He held such views even as the newspapers he ran were advocating the exact opposite. And he clung onto them even after the IRA began murdering fellow journalists, such as News of the World photographer Ed Henty, who died in the Bishopsgate bomb of 1993, and Daily Express reporter Philip Geddes, who died in the Harrods bombing a decade earlier. ‘His [Geddes’s] friends included former colleagues of mine, who told me he was a fine young man,’ Mr Greenslade has now glibly admitted. ‘But I knew people who had been killed by the security forces in Belfast and Derry too, also fine young men.’
During much of the IRA’s reign of terror, Mr Greenslade was also using the pseudonym George King to secretly write for An Phoblacht, a propaganda sheet for the terror group which covered the murder of innocent civilians on page after page of what it called ‘war news’.
In a flagrant breach of normal journalistic ethics, this pertinent fact was never disclosed to readers of his Guardian columns on Irish affairs until after Mr Rusbridger had left office (his successor Kath Viner insisted that a disclaimer was added after she arrived in 2015).
To lead such a double life, for so many years, must take quite an effort. Yet he was nothing if not a master of deceit.
Police officers and firefighters inspecting the damage caused by a Real IRA bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh, 1998
Indeed, one former colleague at the Sunday Times, Liam Clarke, told how Greenslade had once boasted, in a rare moment of frankness during the 1980s: ‘They call me Mr Kipper: two faces.’
Mr Clarke knew of what he spoke: for his own life was later placed in serious danger by Mr Greenslade.
In 1995, ‘Mr Kipper’ published a Guardian article accusing his former colleague (who was based in Ulster) of colluding with the security forces to publish false stories about the IRA’s commitment to a ceasefire. ‘It was a malicious attack, based on no more than tittle-tattle, yet the damage was real,’ Mr Clarke later complained.
‘The allegations were wild, wrong and, for me, dangerous. For a journalist living and working in Northern Ireland to be accused of collusion with the security forces is life-threatening. Once a lie has been printed, it is repeated with regularity. Greenslade was unrepentant.’
By then, he’d been a full-paid-up IRA supporter for more than two decades.
The beginning of Mr Greenslade’s love affair with the IRA dates back to the early 1970s, when he met a glamorous divorcee called Noreen Taylor.+6
Mr Greenslade (right) is married to Noreen Taylor (left), the former Daily Mirror journalist and mother of actress Natascha McElhone (centre, pictured in 1988)
He was, at the time, a grammar school- educated Marxist (his parents were white-collar workers from Dagenham) cutting his teeth on Fleet Street; she was a working-class Daily Mirror journalist with two young children who supported the Trotskyist International Socialists.
Although Miss Taylor grew up in Glasgow, she had been born in Donegal. One of their first dates was spent selling a Left-wing paper called Clann na hÉireann in the pubs of Kilburn, north-west London.
In 1971, the couple travelled to Ireland on holiday and became chummy with a man called Pat Doherty and his wife Mary. They were both committed Republicans: Pat would go on to become vice-president of Sinn Fein and was for many years a member of the IRA’s army council.
So began what Mr Greenslade calls ‘a close friendship that has endured for 50 years.’
On occasion, he even effectively served as his chum’s PR man: in the early 2000s, for example, he went so far as to telephone Roger Alton, editor of the Observer, the Guardian’s sister paper, to say that recent comments by Doherty about the IRA never disarming had been misconstrued. Mr Greenslade’s affection for Ireland was cemented in 1989, when he’d grown wealthy enough climbing the greasy pole of Fleet Street to be able to purchase a grand holiday home next door to the Dohertys – Ballyarr House, a Georgian mansion with 14 acres. He and his wife lovingly restored it and holidayed there for 18 years.
When it was sold in 2008 (so the couple could ‘downsize’), the asking price was €3million and the property section of the Irish Times waxed lyrical about ‘powder blue walls, sea grass floor and a pair of decadent pink velvet couches’.+6
Pictured: Aftermath of an IRA terrorist attack in Belfast’s city centre
That’s quite a pile, for a man who in the 1980s was nicknamed ‘Red Boy’ by Fleet Street colleagues on account of his supposed hard-Left sympathies.
But Mr Greenslade’s socialism has always been of the champagne variety. When he was made editor of the Mirror in 1990, completing his rise to the top of the trade, it was reported that the former Marxist now owned two other homes: a large townhouse in Islington, north London, and a property in Brighton, where they spent weekends.
Another neighbour in Ireland was John Downey, the man later arrested on suspicion of carrying out the 1982 Hyde Park bombing. Mr Greenslade helped pay for his bail. When the case came to court, it was reported that Downey (a shellfish farmer) supplied the Greenslade family with their regular supply of oysters. Over the years, as these and other friendships grew, Mr Greenslade’s status as a sort of honorary Irishman became something of a running joke among friends and relatives.
Indeed, Miss Taylor’s daughter (and his step-daughter) Natascha McElhone, who grew up to become a Hollywood actress, once light-heartedly told an interviewer that the Irish abroad ‘become more Irish, more attached to the politics, the history, than the people living there sometimes’.
But we digress. He spent two years as editor of the Mirror, during which time he fixed a ‘spot the ball’ competition on behalf of the paper’s owner Robert Maxwell so that no one could win the £1million first prize.
After joining the Guardian, he went on to become a noted mouthpiece for Tony Blair’s spokesman Alastair Campbell, who had previously been his political editor. It is not known whether Mr Campbell was aware at the time of Mr Greenslade’s IRA allegiance.
Declaring himself to be ‘like many former Marxists, an unashamed admirer of Tony Blair’, for years he used the Guardian’s pages to attack other newspapers for running stories that had irked Mr Campbell, usually smearing fellow journalists in the process.
In 2002, to cite the most famous example, he waded into a high-profile row over a Mail on Sunday story alleging that Downing Street had tried to help Mr Blair muscle in on the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state.
Greenslade declared the tale ‘utterly false’ and suggested that the journalist who wrote it, Peter Oborne, was ‘stark, staring bonkers’. In fact the story would prove entirely true.
A few weeks later, Number Ten was forced to drop an official complaint after it emerged that Palace officials supported the newspaper’s version of events.
As time wore on, commentators began to nickname him Roy Campbell-Greenslade on account of his status as Mr Campbell’s favoured propagandist.
Explaining why he was only now coming clean about his ‘covert political beliefs’, he said he was answering the grandson who asked him why he became an Irish republican. Will he ever offer the unvarnished story – or will ‘Mr Kipper’ serve up only his one-sided version of the truth?