Gregory Miskiw — Brit tab vet plays roles in scandals in London, Chicago | Bleader

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gregory Miskiw — Brit tab vet plays roles in scandals in London, Chicago

Posted By on 07.27.11 at 08:30 AM

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When a big scandal breaks there are always those intriguing characters on the margins. The Rupert Murdoch scandal is as big as we've had for a while, and Gregory Miskiw is one of those characters.

He's a former news editor at Murdoch's News of the World, the Sunday tabloid Murdoch shut down after it was learned the paper had been hacking cell telephones, including, in 2002, the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered schoolgirl.

On July 11, the New York Times brought Miskiw into the public eye in a piece that claimed to reveal inner workings of the News of the World, including a practice known in the newsroom as "pinging."

Under British law, the technology involved is restricted to law enforcement and security officials, requires case-by-case authorization, and is used mainly for high-profile criminal cases and terrorism investigations, according to a former senior Scotland Yard official who requested anonymity so as to be able to speak candidly.

According to Oliver Crofton, a cybersecurity specialist who works to protect high-profile clients from such invasive tactics, cellphones are constantly pinging off relay towers as they search for a network, enabling an individual’s location to be located within yards by checking the strength of the signal at three different towers. But the former Scotland Yard official who discussed the matter said that any officer who agreed to use the technique to assist a newspaper would be crossing a red line.

“That would be a massive breach,” he said.

A former show-business reporter for The News of the World, Sean Hoare, who was fired in 2005, said that when he worked there, pinging cost the paper nearly $500 on each occasion. He first found out how the practice worked, he said, when he was scrambling to find someone and was told that one of the news desk editors, Greg Miskiw, could help. Mr. Miskiw asked for the person’s cellphone number, and returned later with information showing the person’s precise location in Scotland, Mr. Hoare said.

Adding to the intrigue, a few days later Hoare was found dead in his home.

To Miskiw is attributed the quote: "That is what we do - we go out and destroy other people's lives." He left News of the World in 2005 and has been living in Florida, where he recently announced he was voluntarily going back to Britain. "My solicitor has been talking to the police for some time now and so I have in effect been in touch with the police," he said. "They know where I am and they know I'm returning."

Years earlier, Miskiw played a small role in a developing Chicago story that eventually blossomed into the Jon Burge police torture scandal.

In 1989 the city of Chicago was defending itself in court against the accusation by cop-killer Andrew Wilson that he had been tortured by Burge and other police officers while in their custody seven years earlier. The city proposed that Wilson had actually burned himself on a radio in an interrogation room, and to support this theory they brought on a British subject named William Coleman, a man who'd previously been convicted of fraud, theft, perjury, manslaughter, and blackmail and served time in prisons in seven countries. For a time he'd shared a jail cell with Wilson.

Coleman said Wilson had confided to him he'd burned himself so he'd later be able to claim his confession was coerced.

To rebut this story, Wilson's lawyers flew Miskiw in from England.

The Reader's John Conroy, in a 1990 story on Burge, the first of many from Conroy, wrote:

Miskiw was prepared to tell the jury this tale: In 1986, he was working in London as a reporter for the Daily Mirror when he received a call from Coleman, who was then living in Washington, D.C., under the name Clarkson. Coleman told Miskiw that he could prove that Lord Litchfield, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, had been arrested for possession of cocaine on a visit to Washington the previous October. Miskiw flew to Washington and waited for Coleman to connect him with the police officer who would provide the documentation. The policeman never materialized. In the meantime, Coleman offered information about the sex life of British tennis star Kevin Curran. Miskiw investigated William Coleman instead and ultimately filed a story under the headline "Amazing Royal Smear of Billy Liar."

Wilson's attorneys were gambling, however, when they imported Miskiw. Kunkle [Burge's lawyer] and James McCarthy, the city's lawyer, seemed gleeful at the prospect of questioning a reporter who worked for a tabloid that regularly carried photos of bare-breasted women on page three (the copy that was passed around the defense table had the front-page headline "FURY OVER DOLLY WHOPPERS—SEX SLUR ROCKS BUSTY QUEEN OF COUNTRY MUSIC"). Judge Duff excused the jury, heard Miskiw's story, and allowed Kunkle some cross-examination. Kunkle asked if Miskiw had any personal knowledge of Lord Litchfield or his habits; Miskiw said no. Kunkle asked if Miskiw had any personal knowledge about the sex life of Kevin Curran; Miskiw said no. It became apparent that although Miskiw's "Billy Liar" story was probably truthful, its contents were what courts call hearsay, not evidence. Miskiw left the city the following day, never having faced the jury.

The jury returned a verdict that was hard to follow: the police had a policy of abusing prisoners suspected of shooting police officers, and the police had abused Wilson, but not under that policy. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the verdict, ordered a new trial, and Judge Richard Posner wrote that Miskiw's testimony should have been admitted.

It was Miskiw's job as a reporter to determine Coleman's reputation for trustworthiness in order to decide whether to place any credence in his gossip about the royal cousin. His interviews with members of Coleman's "community" enabled him to testify to Coleman's reputation in that community on the basis of personal knowledge.

Miskiw had also spent a fair amount of time with Coleman himself, in an effort to determine whether the gossip was accurate. On the basis of his personal contacts with Coleman he formed the apparently well-substantiated opinion that Coleman was "a consummate liar." This opinion was admissible wholly apart from evidence about Coleman's reputation in his own community.

Good at his trade — that seems to be the case with Gregory Miskiw.

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