Books

Hack Attack (2014)

Nick Davies spent more than six years uncovering the truth about crime at the News of the World. It was a project which eventually inflicted a crisis on some of the most powerful people in the land, exposing the inner workings of government, big business and police. Hack Attack is the inside story of the whole scandal.

It tells for the first time how a network of rebels – lawyers, MPs and celebrities – worked with Davies to dig and to keep digging until they had exposed the facts: how they challenged Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful man in the world; how Murdoch’s company attempted to protect itself with lies and threats; how Scotland Yard and the UK press regulator helped to conceal the truth and attacked those who were trying to expose it. And it describes the nail-biting finale as the emerging scandal began to threaten Murdoch’s plans to seal the biggest deal of his life.

Hack Attack blows the lid off three of the most powerful institutions in the UK: Downing Street, Fleet Street and Scotland Yard. It breaks into the hidden world of government to reveal in detail how Murdoch executives and journalists spent years pressurising ministers and officials for political favours including the invasion of Iraq and the breach with the EU. It names dozens of private investigators who worked for national newspapers, some of them routinely engaging in crime, and it exposes the ruthless bullying, cheating and law-breaking inside Murdoch’s biggest-selling title. Behind the scenes in Britain’s most powerful police force, it reconstructs the role of senior officers in a history of concealment and failure which aided a cynical cover-up. As Davies and the other rebels pressed home with the truth, panic gripped the power elite, and the book  portrays the convulsions inside government and parliament and the outbreak of chaos inside Murdoch’s empire as rival factions squabbled and ran for cover.

Based on dozens of exclusive interviews with the private investigators, journalists, police officers, politicians and Murdoch executives who were involved, Hack Attack is the story of what happened when truth caught up with power.

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Flat Earth News (2008)

Flat Earth NewsNewspapers live by exposure and yet they keep their own business concealed – for good reason. When Nick Davies decided to break Fleet Street’s unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, he found that the business of truth had been slowly subverted by the mass production of ignorance: “Finally I was forced to admit that I work in a corrupted profession.”

Working with a network of sources inside national newsrooms, he traced in detail: the ease with which the CIA and MI6 had been able to plant fiction about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the pages of the Observer; the routine racism and resort to falsehood in the operation of the Daily Mail; the infection of right-wing politics and incompetence in the Sunday Times. Davies named names and identified a sequence of national news stories which proved to have been contrived by the PR industry to serve the interests of the rich and powerful; and of global stories which turned out to be fiction generated by a new machinery of propaganda run by military and intelligence agencies. He tracked the impact of all this on a world where the consumers of news are led to believe a mass of stories which in truth are as false as the idea that the Earth is flat, tainting government policy, perverting popular belief.

The book developed a new model for understanding news, exposing the ease with which modern news organisations can be manipulated by those acting for governments, corporations and powerful individuals. With the help of specialist researchers from Cardiff University, who ran a ground-breaking analysis of the output of  ‘quality’ newspapers, Davies found that most reporters most of the time are no longer allowed to perform the most essential functions of their work – a profession corrupted at the core.

Buy Flat Earth News from Amazon in paperback or hardback.

The School Report: Why Britain’s Schools Are Failing (2000)

The School Report is a collection of stories which Nick Davies published in the Guardian during an 18-month investigation into the condition of UK education. The results were shocking.

Davies dug beneath the surface issues to expose the fundamentals – the profound impact of Britain’s new poverty on the educational achievements of its children; the bogus analysis of school failure used by the Department for Education and Ofsted; the fabrication of facts by Ofsted’s chief inspector; the Secretary of State’s billion-pound falsehoods about the education budget; the link between the success of private schools and the failure of state schools; the undeclared but highly successful policy to kill off comprehensive schools; the perverse impact of underfunding from the state; graphic stories of the lives of truants and failing students; and an expose of how some teachers have joined children in cheating to deliver the exam results which the government demands. It is the inside story of a nation beset by social problems and of schools undermined by phoney solutions.

When this extraordinary series of revelations was published by The Guardian, it was furiously denounced both by the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary but it was greeted with passionate acclaim by readers, many of them teachers. As a result of these stories, Davies was named Reporter of the Year and also became the first winner of the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism.

Buy The School Report from Amazon.

Dark Heart: The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain (1998)

On a rainy autumn evening in a fairground near the centre of Nottingham, Nick Davies noticed two young boys, no more than twelve years old, and realised that while all around them people were preparing for fun, these two were setting out with grim determination to do something very different. They were trying to sell their bodies. Davies befriended the boys and discovered that they were part of a network of children who were selling themselves on the streets of the city, running a nightly gauntlet of dangers – pimps, punters, the Vice Squad, disease, drugs – and yet, most mysteriously, they could not be stopped. They seemed to be drawn towards their own destruction.

This experience propelled Davies into a journey of discovery of the trail of human destruction which had been left by the new wave of poverty which was engulfing millions of people in the United Kingdom as the politics of neoliberalism gripped the country. He found other boys and girls selling themselves for sex on the streets of cities across the country and began to see that their motive for doing this was not simply that they were poor and wanted money but that they had been deeply damaged by the experience of growing up in the chaos of impoverished communities and broken families.

This in turn led him deeper into the new slums and ghettoes of the UK’s green and pleasant land. He followed the trail of damage – emotional, physical, social, spiritual – left by the wave of poverty, ending up with his notebook inside crack houses and brothels and illegal gambling dens as well as in the homes of ordinary families who were suddenly sinking into debt and despair. He befriended street gangs and their victims, rough sleepers and drug dealers as well as the social workers and teachers and doctors who were struggling to deal with the problems which the new poverty was inflicting on those it struck.

Dark Heart not only tells the tales of the men, women and children who Davies found living in this hidden Britain but also traces the cruel and complacent policies which had manufactured poverty on a scale and of a kind which once had appeared to have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

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Murder on Ward Four: The Story of Bev Allitt and the Most Terrifying Crime Since the Moors Murders (1993)

Murder on Ward Four

This book plaits together two very different stories. Most obviously,  it is an account of what happened when a young woman with a murderous personality disorder managed to find herself work as a nurse on a children’s ward. That is a classic crime story, which begins with the mystery of peculiarly perverse serial killings with their devastating effect on the victims and their families and which then follows the painstaking investigation to the point of final exposure. But beneath the surface, it is also an account of how Britain’s most treasured institution – the National Health Service – was undermined from within by a relentless campaign of spending cuts inflicted by a government which cared far more about winning votes by cutting taxes than it did about the safety and well-being of its people.

Murder On Ward Four traces the accelerating crisis on a ward that became a killing ground: the series of unexplained deaths; the distraught families; the helpless staff; the clever detective and his pursuit of the clues; the scandal as the truth dawned; the political panic that followed; and the eerie mind of the murderer with the very curious past.

Nick Davies spent two years working with the families of the children who were attacked as well as with doctors, nurses and managers from the hospital and with the detectives and lawyers who dealt with the crisis. The result is a book which tells the the story of a hospital – populated by staff who specialised in understanding sickness and death – which was so weakened and demoralised that it became a place where literally it was possible to get away with murder.

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White Lies: The True Story of Clarence Brandley, Presumed Guilty in the American South (1991)

This is a story about racism in the USA. It begins with the rape and murder of a white schoolgirl and the immediate casual and cruel assumption that the crime must have been committed by the nearest black man to the scene – Clarence Brandley, a janitor at the girl’s school. In the words of one of the town’s law officers: “Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.”

Nick Davies spent two years visiting Conroe, in east Texas, mixing with the white folk who were sure that Brandley must be guilty and with the black families who lived in wooden shacks on the other side of the railroad tracks and who had seen all this before – the black man accused of some sexual contact with a white woman, the white men proudly gathering to inflict torment and death on their target regardless of law and order. Led by the old people on the black side of town, Davies uncovered that this small town had a history of publicly murdering young black men, lynching them. Now, things had changed just enough that instead of using a flaming pyre or a rope over the branch of a tree, they had to use the courthouse, corrupting the process of justice, in order to kill their man.

Brandley’s case became a symbolic battle. On one side stood the traditional defenders of the old South: the Texas Ranger with his white Stetson and silver badge; the power-mongering District Attorney and the cynical law officers; the Mayor with his cigar as thick as a swan’s neck. Facing them was an army of underdogs from the black communities of Conroe and near-by Houston led by a handful of brave attorneys who dared to stand up for justice, a charismatic black community leader, a white priest-turned-detective and a tough Texan private eye.

Pursuing the truth about the schoolgirl’s death through a maze of corruption and violence, Brandley’s supporters sought help from a bizarre cast of unlikely heroes and finally confronted the grim truth about the town of Conroe and about the racism that lurks beneath the surface of American life, hidden by the web of white lies.

Buy White Lies from Amazon.

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