In 1992, The Sun newspaper publicly revealed the tapes' existence in an article entitled "Squidgygate", which is a cultural-reference to the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. The publication of the tapes was a highpoint of the "War of the Waleses" that accelerated the separation and eventual divorce of The Prince and Princess of Wales.
It is thought that the Princess's relationship with Gilbey was at its peak in 1989, suggesting that the tapes had existed for a number of years before publication. There is conjecture that Diana, knowing of the existence of the tapes, instigated contact with the journalist Andrew Morton, resulting in the publication by Morton of the book Diana: Her True Story, and the start of the "War of the Waleses".
Cyril Reenan, a 70-year-old retired manager for the Trustee Savings Bank, regularly listened in on non-commercial radio frequencies for amusement with his wife, in much the same way that some people listen to police frequencies using household radio sets (a practice illegal in some jurisdictions). Reenan was also a generous organiser of trips for disabled youngsters, and had previously been the recipient of a modest award from the Princess of Wales's Charities Trust. Reenan played them excerpts from a tape without having previously told them what he had recorded.
Two days later the journalists were shown round Mr Reenan's home-made eavesdropping studio, which they described as follows: "Above the scanners was a 1960s-style tape recorder with a microphone dangling down above the scanning equipment so that the couple could tape 'interesting' conversations".
Reenan was quoted as saying he was "so nervous I just want you [the reporters] to take the tape away." "I didn't know what to do with it once I'd got it. I was stuck with it, and I was frightened of it," he was quoted as saying, claiming that if the paper had told him that "the tape was 'dangerous', I would have burned it or scrubbed it out."
Reenan claimed that he had been so worried by the evident security breach that he had first thought of attempting to gain an audience with Diana: "I could have used a code-word, perhaps the nickname Squidgy... I was trying to save her face in a way." However, having thought on it "for a day, at least", Reenan decided that he "would not get to see Diana." So he "rang the Sun instead."
The tape begins in mid-conversation, with the man asking: "And so, darling, what other lows today?" To which the woman replies: "I was very bad at lunch, and I nearly started blubbing. I just felt so sad and empty and thought 'bloody hell, after all I've done for this fucking family...' It's just so desperate. Always being innuendo, the fact that I'm going to do something dramatic because I can't stand the confines of this marriage [...] He makes my life real torture, I've decided."
The conversation covered topics as diverse as the BBC soap opera EastEnders, and the strange looks that Diana received from the Queen Mother: "It's not hatred, it's sort of pity and interest mixed in one [...] every time I look up, she's looking at me, and then looks away and smiles." Additionally, in view of a fascination with clairvoyance that was later to become well-known, Diana was also heard explaining how she had startled the Bishop of Norwich by claiming to be "aware that people I have loved and [who] have died [...] are now in the spirit world, looking after me."
Diana expressed worries about whether a recent meeting with Gilbey would be discovered. She also discussed a fear of becoming pregnant, and Gilbey referred to her as "Darling" 14 times, and as "Squidgy" (or "Squidge") 53 times.
In January 1991, after sitting on the tape for a year, Norgrove approached The Sun. The paper made a copy of her recording, and offered her £200 for her time: Norgrove refused the money, claiming that she "got scared and didn't want to know about it any more." Norgrove claimed: "I wanted to speak out now to clear up all this nonsense about a conspiracy [...] I'm not part of a Palace plot to smear the Princess of Wales." The Sun had initially published the opinions of "a senior courtier [who] claims the tape is part of a plot to blacken Diana's name" and the verdicts of other anonymous Palace staffers, who said that the tape was "a sophisticated attempt to get even by friends loyal to Prince Charles after Diana's co-operation with the book Diana: Her True Story, by Andrew Morton."
Such speculation had not been confined to tabloid newspapers: William Parsons, of anti-surveillance consultants Systems Elite, remarked that the technical and atmospheric requirements for such a recording to be possible (both halves of a cellular telephone call, with equal clarity, when the callers were over 100 miles apart, in different network cells), were so improbable as to arouse suspicion: "My money would not be on somebody accidentally picking it up [...] There is more to this than meets the eye."
Jane Norgrove was adamant: "It was just me, recording a telephone conversation in my bedroom. Nothing more and nothing less than that."
Speculation in the media—and in court circles—reached fever pitch. In his memoirs, Diana's private secretary Patrick Jephson recounts a fraught game of media one-upmanship by the feuding couple: secret briefings to friendly journalists, open collaboration with TV documentaries, and separate appearances at different public events on the same day were just some of the many strategies with which Charles and Diana attempted to force each other out of the limelight. Jephson recalls that the atmosphere at Kensington Palace at the time was "like a slowly-spreading pool of blood leaking from under a locked door."
Throughout 1991 and into 1992, Diana had been involved in secret co-operation with a previously little-known court correspondent called Andrew Morton. The result of this liaison was the book Diana: Her True Story, which—although obviously biased because of the close involvement of the Princess—revealed in graphic detail the previously hidden disaster that the Waleses' marriage had become. Diana's bulimia, suicide attempts and self-mutilation were spelt out unambiguously, as were Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, and the intrigues of Palace officials in attempting to contain the disintegrating Royal marriage.
Audiotel concluded that the presence of data bursts on the tape was suspicious. Data bursts ("pips" at intervals of approximately 10 seconds, containing information for billing purposes) would normally be filtered out at the exchange before Cellnet transmission. That these "pips" were present at all was therefore anomalous, but they were also too fast, too loud, and exhibited a "low-frequency [audio] 'shadow'," implying "some kind of doctoring of the tape," said Audiotel's managing director, Andrew Martin, in his firm's report. "The balance of probability suggests something irregular about the recording which may indicate a rebroadcasting of the conversation some time after the conversation took place."
Within a week of the Times's announcement, a further independent analysis was carried out for the same newspaper by John Nelson of Crew Green Consulting Ltd, with assistance from Martin Colloms, audio analyst for Sony International. Their analysis demonstrated convincingly that the conversation could not have been recorded by a scanning receiver in the manner claimed by Mr Reenan. Amongst several relevant factors, there was a 50 hertz hum in the background of the "Squidgygate" conversation together with components in the recorded speech with frequencies in excess of 4 kHz. Neither could have passed through the filters of Mr Reenan's Icom receiver or indeed have been transmitted by the cellular telephone system. The 50 Hz hum was consistent with the effect of attempting to record a telephone conversation via a direct tap on a landline.
Since Gilbey was known to have been speaking from a mobile phone, inside a parked car, this left Diana's telephone line at Sandringham as the source of the recording. Nelson's analysis, written after a visit to Mr Reenan and an examination of his unsophisticated receiving system (which consisted essentially of an Icom wideband scanning receiver and a conventional television antenna), showed that the recording was most likely to have been made as a result of a local tapping of the telephone line somewhere between the female party's telephone itself, and the local exchange. Furthermore, narrow-band spectrum analysis showed this 50 Hz "hum" to consist of two separate but superimposed components, possibly indicating a remixing of the tape after the initial recording. The spectral frequency content of the tape was demonstrably inconsistent with its supposed origin as an off-air recording of an analogue cellular telephone channel but quite feasible if the recording had been made via a local-end direct tap.
As well as the strong technical case he made against the recording, Nelson established two other salient points. The first was that Gilbey's mobile telephone was registered to the Cellnet network. Secondly, the Cellnet base-station transmitter site in Abingdon Town, the data channel of which was the only one receivable on Reenan's receiving system at the time of his visit, was not in service at the date of the alleged telephone conversation; it was first commissioned on 3 March 1990. It was therefore not possible that the purported recording could have been made off-air by Reenan or Norgrove in December 1989 or January 1990 (see below).
With regard to the data-bursts that had aroused the suspicion of Audiotel International, Colloms and Nelson stated: "We are forced to conclude that these data-bursts are not genuine, but were added later to the tape. They originated with a locally-made recording, and show that an attempt has been made to disguise a local tap by making it appear that it was recorded over cellular radio."
Telecommunications company Cellnet admitted that it had automatically conducted its own internal investigation after publication of the "Squidgygate" transcript, because Gilbey had been speaking on a Cellnet phone. "It is a very sensitive issue if a cellular network has been bugged," said Cellnet spokesman William Ostrom: "We wished to satisfy ourselves exactly what happened." Cellnet's inquiry, claimed Ostrom, had "replicated" the findings of Colloms and Nelson: Cellnet announced that it was "completely satisfied that we can dismiss this as an example of our network being eavesdropped."
In other words, three independent expert analyses of the "Squidgygate" tapes showed beyond any doubt that the recorded conversation had been the result of a direct tap on Diana's landline. Since Sandringham, like all the Royal Palaces, has its own exchange, the person who installed the tap must have had access to the premises. The person or persons responsible had then edited and remixed the fruits of their eavesdropping, doctored it to look like a live transmission by adding data bursts, and had then rebroadcast it, four days after the recording, in the vicinity of a locally-known snooper's 20ft aerial. Unfortunately the perpetrator did not realise that Reenan's receiving installation was much less impressive than it looked to a layman and the media.
Obviously Reenan held firm and finally received his money—although The Sun seems to have got the upper hand by using a classic tabloid "cloak-and-dagger" tactic to ensure that their unwitting subject was not initially available for further comment after the story broke: "For four days we were walking around in the dark because the Sun advised us to draw our curtains and not to touch our mail or newspapers." Jane Norgrove was also reported by the Mail to be "in hiding."
From references made in the taped conversation, it was clearly evident that Diana and Gilbey were talking on New Year's Eve, 1989, the time at which The Sun claimed both Reenan and Norgrove had recorded it. However, Reenan informed the Mail that he had recorded the tape on 4 January, 1990. This was reported without comment by The Mail, directly contradicting the by-now nationally-known version of events.
The next day, an energised Reenan made more surprising admissions, telling The Oxford Mail that certain parts of the "Squidgygate" conversation had been left out by The Sun. The Sun confirmed this to The Mail, saying that they had not made public certain sections of the recording, "for fear of damaging Diana irreparably." "All the reporters in London seem to know what's on that tape," complained Reenan, "and they've all been to me to confirm it. Both my wife and I have said we can't remember, but we know what was in there." Reenan hinted darkly that there was "a lot about that tape" that had never been made public: "And I'm damn glad that it wasn't."
The Mail also issued a correction: the previous day, Reenan had claimed that he had been paid £1,000 by The Sun. He now admitted it was £6,000, and he would be giving it to charity. The glaring anomaly of the date of the recording, 4 January 1990, was conspicuously not corrected.
The national media, however, were racing ahead with their coverage of the developing royal split, and had already dropped Reenan. The Oxford Mail's article alleging press harassment, censored recordings, and a revised date, were ignored. The Guardian quoted a Sun spokesman as saying that: "Our interest in the royal story has moved on from Mr. Reenan."
Months after the story had broken, Reenan spoke to non-Sun reporters, expressing his anger over his treatment by The Sun: "When I read the transcript of the conversation between the princess and the man, there were large chunks which I knew had not come from my tape." The Sun, it seemed, had produced a hybrid of Reenan's tape and Norgrove's, Reenan's tape having run out before the end of the conversation. As for the date of the recording: "I did not understand it. I know when I heard that call, and it was 4th January. I was not even at home on New Year's Eve."
Jane Norgrove, in her efforts to dispel "all this nonsense about a conspiracy," simply raised new concerns when she claimed that she had wiped her tape after giving a copy to The Sun: "I want to make clear that the Enquirer's tape was nothing to do with me [...] I thought I'd better speak to the Sun again, in case people thought it was me."
Who, then, sent the Enquirer a third copy of the conversation remains unknown. Furthermore, a fourth tape was sent anonymously to Richard Kay of the Daily Mail, in a plain brown envelope with a central London postmark, during the same period.
Diana's careful efforts to make sure that Morton's revelations were not traceable directly to her—which included using a friend, James Coldhurst, to run Dictaphone recordings to Morton—had paid off. Even Jephson was unaware of her actions till much later, stoutly defending her against whisperers: even though, as he adds, many in Palace circles went "half-mad" trying to prove her involvement.
Andrew Morton's own speculation on the alleged tape-recordings of Diana's "damning" calls was added to the 1993 reprint of Diana: Her True Story: "Was Diana's telephone really bugged—and if so by whom—or was it an elaborate bluff aimed at extracting a confession from the Princess about her rumoured complicity in the preparation of my book?"
Jephson himself recalled that he had heard "a vague rumour about some tapes" before, but had "dismissed it as just another among so many ghastly whisperings, gobbets of disinformation and black propaganda that were by then my daily diet. This time, however, the rumours were true and 'Squidgygate' burst upon us."
On the same day as these remarks, members of the Commons all-party Home Affairs Select Committee had their first meeting with Dame Stella Rimington, director general of MI5. Committee member John Greenway MP (Conservative) remarked that the recent "Camillagate" leak "strengthens the case for a parliamentary committee to have responsibility to oversee or scrutinise the work of the security services [...] I suspect that colleagues will want to ask how true the allegations [of MI5 complicity in the 'Camillagate' leak] are, and I suspect that she [Rimington] will refuse to tell us." No record exists of matters discussed at the meeting.
The first major "Establishment" figure to question the official line on "Squidgygate" was Lord Rees-Mogg, the arch-conservative chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Authority. He had proved an early proponent of the "rogue spies" school of thought in January 1993, when he used his Times column to accuse elements within the British security services of engineering the leaks. "All those tapes were made within a month," he wrote. "The most likely explanation is that MI5 did it to protect the Royal Family at a time of danger from the IRA. I don't think there was any sense of wrong-doing, but once they were made there was the danger of a leak."
Examples of such eavesdropping and leaking follow.
A former Canadian Security Intelligence Service officer, Mike Frost, has told how Canada's listening capabilities had been utilised by Margaret Thatcher, when Prime Minister, to spy on two unnamed cabinet colleagues. "She wanted to find out not what they were saying, but what they were thinking," he said. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the government's listening post in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was to have been used to carry out this surveillance, but they approached the Canadian intelligence services, because the operation was too politically sensitive. The spying was organised from the offices of Macdonald House in Grosvenor Square, London, the home of the Canadian High Commissioner. The Canadian officer who led the spying operation personally drove to GCHQ to deliver the fruits of the snooping: tape-recordings of the ministers' communications over a three-week period. Frost did not know, or perhaps simply did not say, what use was made of these tapes.
During the "Spycatcher" controversy of 1987, the British Conservative government sought to suppress the Australian publication of the memoirs of Peter Wright (a former deputy director of MI5). Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock suddenly found himself accused by the Conservative Party of talking to Wright's lawyers. Kinnock had indeed done so, via international telephone, but with a general election looming, Kinnock apparently did not want to be seen as some kind of "security risk", and so he declined to ask publicly how the Conservative Party had come to know the contents of his private phone calls.
The Labour Party, then in Opposition, accused Kenneth Clarke of irresponsibility, issuing a rather sardonic statement: "He has to show that he is taking these allegations seriously, otherwise he will be perceived as being unable to control an organisation for which he is responsible."
Conservative MP Richard Shepherd called the official reports: "two old buffers saying that in their opinion the security services act with integrity." The National Heritage Secretary Peter Brook gave MPs "a categorical assurance that the heads of the agencies concerned have said there is no truth in the rumours."
There remain problems with the "squidgygate" analysis by the above experts. James Gilbey was said to have received the call while his car was at a lay-by in Oxfordshire. (In fact it has never been made clear whether it was Gilbey who phoned Diana or the other way round). If the phone tap was applied at the Sandringham end (Diana's landline phone), doctored and then rebroadcast we need to know why the only two people to have picked it up happened to both reside in the Oxford area. In other words, how did the phone tapper know where to direct his rebroadcast to? The eavesdropper would have had no advance knowledge that Diana was going to make her call (or receive it) or who or where it was going to, or coming from. Therefore how did this assumed eavesdropper manage to send it only to Oxfordshire?
Had the security services intercepted the call, it is inconceivable that they would then alter and rebroadcast it. What possible motive have MI5 or GCHQ to rebroadcast private phone calls (including some sexual content) for the public to listen to? The very last thing they would do is make their interceptions public, unless it was an accidental leak. Although not common in a heavily guarded organization such as MI5 or GCHQ it is still possible.
And had it been tapped and rebroadcast illegally by a private individual, is it not strange that it was picked up by two radio hams (and no-one else) operating in the very area where the call was received (or made)? As for the date discrepancy, how certain is Mr Reenan, who says he was away from home on December 31, that the recording occurred on January 4? Was it sandwiched between other calls made on this date? Or has Reenan merely tried to direct suspicion away from himself as having, possibly illegally, recorded other peoples' private phone calls? If Jane Norgrove insists her recording was on December 31, this hardly gives the assumed interceptor any time to alter and rebroadcast it if the call was indeed made on that afternoon.
In other words, despite the expert analysis of the tapes, it still appears that a chance intercept by these two radio hams is the most likely origin of the "squidgygate" call.
The "Camillagate" tape showed no signs of suspicious treatment, and appeared to be just what it was claimed to have been: a recording, "from air", of Charles and Camilla talking privately on 18 December 1989. A radio ham living near Chester (from where Charles made the call on a mobile) is alleged to have intercepted this call.
Chance interception of high-level communication is not unknown: during the 1982 Falklands conflict, a radio ham in London had intercepted and taped a conversation between the then-Prime Minister's press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham and the Assistant Director-General of the BBC, in which the BBC was pressurised into sharing war footage with commercial rivals ITN.
The "Squidgygate" tape showed clear signs of having been doctored and rebroadcast on 4 January 1990; four days after its initial interception on New Year's Eve, 1989. However, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that it could not have been recorded off-air in the manner claimed by Reenan and Norgrove. (But see above; there still remain difficult questions in this respect).
In 2002, Diana's former Personal Protection Officer, Inspector Ken Wharfe revealed that the investigation had "identified all those involved, but for legal reasons I cannot expand further, and nor is it necessary to do so." Wharfe added, however, that: "It does [...] lend credence to the Princess's belief, so often dismissed by her detractors, that the Establishment was out to destroy her." This directly contradicts the statements of Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke, and conflicts with the statements of Lord Bingham of Cornhill—a Privy Councillor since 1986—whose report claims that the interception services behaved properly. Ken later admitted this was just speculation on his part but that he did believe the royal family was being bugged by the GCHQ in order to protect them from the IRA. The GCHQ denied this allegation.
Diana pulled up a carpet in an upstairs room at Kensington Palace, to show Jephson what she believed was evidence of bugging: fresh sawdust and disturbed planks: "She pointed silently at the sawdust, and nodded significantly." Jephson tried to reassure her that this was simply the result of the rewiring of all the Royal palaces, following the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle, but Diana, after gesturing for him to remain silent, was evidently unconvinced.
The tabloid Sunday Mirror carried the story of how Palace courtiers were ready to press the Queen to let the Royal Warrants for Harrods lapse: "It would be a huge blow to the ego of store owner Mohamed al-Fayed—and would infuriate Diana [...] but the Royal Family are furious about the frolics of Di, 36, and Dodi Fayed, 41, which they believe have further undermined the Monarchy... Prince Philip, in particular has made no secret as to how he feels about his [former] daughter-in-law's latest man, referring to Dodi as an 'oily bed-hopper'."
After noting that MI6 had prepared a report on the Fayeds, which would be presented at an early September meeting of the Royal policy think-tank, The Way Ahead Group, the paper quoted a friend of the Royals as saying: "Prince Philip has let rip several times recently about the Fayeds: at a dinner party, during a country shoot, and while on a visit to close friends in Germany. He's been banging on about his contempt for Dodi and how he is undesirable as a future stepfather to William and Harry. Diana has been told in no uncertain terms about the consequences should she continue the relationship with the Fayed boy. Options must include exile, although that would be very difficult, as—when all is said and done—she is the mother of the future King of England [sic]."
Mirror columnist Chris Hutchins could not have been aware that events later that night would mean his words would be read in a very different light. He had written in the paper's "Confidential" feature:
Hutchins concluded: "I must remember to take it up with Diana next time we find ourselves on adjacent running machines at our West London gym."
The second "Squidgygate" tape disappeared from the media without trace, before it had even had a chance to appear, with no further information on its contents, origins, or on its sudden surfacing in private hands after a gap of some seven years.
A spokesman for the NSA, which holds 124 pages from "39 NSA-originated and NSA-controlled documents", declined to answer further questions about the documents, as did a spokeswoman for the CIA, which has at least two documents.
When asked why the Defense Intelligence Agency might be holding documents on Diana, Lieutenant-Colonel James MacNeil said he had "no idea why. All of our stuff is on military [matters]. Obviously she wasn't in the military."
After a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Guardian newspaper in 1999, the NSA told the paper that it was—and is still—holding reports under both "secret" and "top secret" classifications, and that: "these documents cannot be declassified because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security." The agency said it also needed to protect its sources: "The reports contain only references to Princess Diana acquired incidentally from intelligence gathering. It is neither NSA policy or practice to target British subjects in conducting our foreign intelligence mission. However, other countries could communicate about these subjects; therefore, this agency could acquire intelligence concerning British subjects."
U.S. journalist Gerald Posner was played innocuous extracts from the NSA tapes of Diana's conversations in early 1999.
Diana, and other international figures including Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, were all listened in on by the Echelon monitoring system, a world-wide monitoring network capable of processing millions of messages every hour. "'Anybody who is politically active,' said Madsen, 'will eventually end up on the NSA's radar screen.'"
In December 1998, the French magistrate who investigated Diana's death, Hervé Stephan, wrote to the American secret services to request the 1,056-page dossier of transcripted calls. This request was refused a month or so later.
Complaints by staff at Clarence House, the official residence to the Prince of Wales, prompted the investigation that led to the arrests.