Last night came the unsurprising, as yet unconfirmed, news that Exaro News was folding from Guido Fawkes and Exaro’s former Editor-in-Chief, Mark Watts via Twitter.
As Mark Watts alludes to in his tweet, this news follows a tweet a few days earlier by Mark Conrad stating that David Hencke had taken over as ‘Head of Exaro’.
Many will now be asking what exactly has gone on and I’m afraid that I don’t know the answer to that; all I can do here is speculate – it may be informed speculation but it is still speculation and there is a reason for that because although I have been trying to find out what has been going on at Exaro News over the last few weeks, it appears to me that everyone involved with the news agency has been in a mutually agreed purdah – everyone that is except for Mark Watts who has been talking to Press Gazette first on 3rd June:
Watts told colleagues in the email: “You have the right to know that further cuts to the editorial team are, indeed, planned, and, as you know, no proper announcement of this was made at the outset internally.”
He added: “Even if you end up leaving Exaro, you can all be justifiably proud of the terrific work that you have done to ‘hold power to account’. How many journalists can say that today? I am sure that your time at Exaro will be a real boon to your future careers.”
And again a few days ago apparently following a statement by David Hencke and Mark Conrad’s tweet copied above:
Watts told Press Gazette: “Exaro’s management made clear to me during the course of meetings about my position that they would be making a cut of at least 25 per cent to the casuals budget.
“But they were working from a baseline figure that was 20 per cent lower than in reality, amounting to a 40 per cent cut overall. I was merely reflecting what I was told by management and what their intentions were.”
He added that losing the editor position at Exaro would result in the agency running “less challenging stories”.
Intriguingly, between these two Press Gazette stories Anna Raccoon tweeted:
So, what is going on ?
My best guess is that this is a consequence of the inquiry announced by Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan Howe earlier in the year which is being undertaken by former judge Sir Richard Henriques which is looking at the police handling of historic allegations of sexual abuse against public figures over the last few years and which is due to be completed by November. I know for certain that Henriques has been interviewing individuals connected to these investigations and it stands to reason that he would want to talk to Mark Watts and other Exaro journalists.
I can think of three areas over which Henriques may want to talk to Mark Watts and others about.
- Issues related to the Met investigation into an allegation against Leon Brittan made by Exaro witness ‘Jane’ – not the actual allegation itself but what followed when ‘Jane’ had been told by DCI Paul Settle that there would be no further action. This also draws in Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson MP (I doubt he’ll be too happy about that) A timeline for that can be found HERE
- Operation Midland and Exaro Witness ‘Nick’ and perhaps other Exaro witnesses (Too many different issues to go into in detail.)
- The false allegations made by Exaro witnesses that DCI Paul Settle had leaked complainant’s personal information to the press. This amounted to false allegations of misconduct in a public office and has led to an ongoing IPCC investigation into DCI Settle. More on that HERE
There are probably more areas that Henriques may have wanted to talk to Exaro staff about but as you can see there is enough to justify a chat and it isn’t hard to see how such serious issues once exposed by Henriques may have consequences beyond an internal Met Inquiry – regardless of whether it was Bernard Hogan Howe’s originally intention when setting up the judge led inquiry.
Some people have suggested that I focus on Exaro’s former Editor-in-Chief, Mark Watts too much and that others like David Hencke and Mark Conrad should be equally criticised and I think to some extent that is probably fair – I agree that they both need to take some responsibility.
However, I’ve heard enough stories over the last few years from reliable Exaro insiders to lead me to believe that it was Mark Watts who was the driving force. He was able to wield executive and supreme editorial power which he exploited in pursuit of his own deeply flawed strategic vision founded on a possibly delusional, certainly conspiracy theorist’s, view of the CSA reality; too often information was increasingly made to fit this view, any information contrary to it was ignored – the owners were hands off as a matter of genuine principle and the staff working under Watts were almost powerless to change the disastrous course.
Some suggest that if that is all true then those journalists should have resigned and two I know of did just that. However, reasons for not doing so can be very complex and aren’t necessarily explained by self interest or that everyone at Exaro News was fully on board.
There will be criticisms of others and I’m certain some of it will be justified but rather than attribute blame to everyone involved at Exaro, I’d rather wait to hear their side of the story. Remember also that there were staff working at Exaro News who were absolutely nothing to do with the reporting of child sexual abuse who’ve also lost their jobs yesterday.
It looks like the Exaro brand, like Ratners before it, was just too heavily contaminated to continue.
If any former staff members of Exaro News would like to contact me – IN ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE – and help me to understand better what has been going on, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll leave everyone with one question:
What on Earth does Watts mean by “An act of vandalism” in this context ?
PS, The apology by Exaro to Patrick Mahoney, HERE, for publishing stolen material might have contributed to Mark Watts being sacked but given that such an apology is an admission of liability and therefore very likely part of an agreed settlement between Mr Mahoney and Exaro News – it is unlikely to be the reason why Exaro has folded.