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.
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.
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’.
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.
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 poll 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’.
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?