The hacking of Boris Johnson’s home

The Guardian’s invasion of Boris’s privacy is a new low for broadsheet journalism.

Brendan O'Neill
Topics Politics

Is it right to record a couple’s private conversations, through the walls of their home, and then publish their words verbatim in a national newspaper? Most people would say no. Most people would consider that a grotesque invasion of privacy. Most people would think it profoundly morally wrong to spy on a couple’s most intimate moments and then salaciously expose those moments to readers hungry for scandal.

The Guardian clearly thinks differently. Its publication of the literal words spoken by Boris Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds in a late-night row in their own home, which it got from a recording made by a neighbour, suggests it cares little for privacy. It suggests that this paper is so keen to dent Johnson’s reputation and standing ahead of the Tory leadership contest that it will happily ditch its own alleged commitment to ethical journalism and go so far as to report verbatim an entirely private conversation. This could be a new low for the Guardian.

What’s extraordinary is that the Guardian once almost brought down the entire institution of press freedom as part of its campaign against tabloid newspapers that were listening to people’s private voicemail messages. The Guardian led the moral crusade against tabloid phone-hacking and helped to give rise to the elitist enterprise that was the Leveson Inquiry, which proposed virtually to reverse the freedom from state intervention that the British press has enjoyed for 350 years. Yet now the Guardian has gone much further than any of the hacking tabloids ever did by publishing the actual words spoken by a public figure in a private conversation that was surreptitiously recorded.

The recording was made by one of Johnson’s neighbours. These people heard Johnson and Symonds having a row and they also heard some loud slamming noises. The police were called. The police say they spoke to ‘all occupants of the address’ who were all ‘safe and well’: ‘There was no cause for police action.’ That should have been the end of it. It was not a criminal matter, just a private row. And yet to the Guardian, it wasn’t the end of the matter; it was just the beginning. It transcribed the surreptitious recording and splashed its contents on its front page. It made private words into frontpage news.

This is a far greater invasion of privacy than those carried out by phone-hacking journalists at tabloid newspapers. It was unquestionably wrong of those journalists to hack into people’s private voicemails (though many of us consider the Leveson inquiry to have been a complete overreaction). Yet those tabloid journalists never published the contents of what they heard; they just used what they heard to weave or uncover larger stories. The Guardian has published the actual content of a hacked private conversation.

And the chattering classes are lapping it up. These are the kind of people who look down their noses at tabloid-reading plebs who like to hear about the private lives of celebs. Yet now they priggishly pore over the hacked conversation of a politician and his girlfriend and hold it up as proof of what foul or tragic people they are. The worst aspect is the naked sexism they’re displaying towards Ms Symonds. They decree, in their infinite wisdom, that she is a victim and should get the hell out. All on the basis of one surreptitiously recorded conversation. Apparently they know better than Ms Symonds herself what she should do with her life – what paternalistic, neo-Victorian judgementalism of a woman and her choices!

Should the Guardian be reprimanded for what it did? Absolutely not. Do we need an inquiry into a broadsheet newspaper sourcing and publishing a secretly made recording of a private conversation in a private home? Don’t even think about it. Some of us believe in press freedom so much that we think even in these circumstances the newspaper should publish and be damned. Let the public decide if what the Guardian did was morally acceptable. I hope they will agree that if the liberal broadsheets develop a habit of listening through the walls of private citizens’ homes, then both the right to a private life and the standards of journalism in this country will suffer badly.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty Images.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Graham Dalby

28th June 2019 at 5:25 pm

I once fell asleep on a new white sofa sitting upright with a full glass of red wine in my hand. My wife was livid and I’m quite sure neighbours on both sides got the gist! However, like Mr Johnson, I had been working very long and arduous hours and was frankly exhausted and was eventually forgiven. Nobody called the Police nor had any James Bond standard listening equipment been attached to my wall. This was because Brexit then didn’t exist, the hard left had no interest in South London where I lived, and people generally respected each other whatever their political views were. This was just ten years ago. Yesterday I chatted to a couple in Wiltshire who had just moved up from Dorset and the gentleman (in his seventies) rounded on me for no reason I can think of with “I suppose by the way you speak (meaning RP I suppose) that you are a Brexit-loving, dyed-in the-wool-true blue Conservative who thinks the world of that idiot Boris who will destroy this country?” My rule was never to discuss Politics in pubs so I didn’t. How changed is our country today?

Marvin Jones

25th June 2019 at 2:55 pm

When a violent sounding hot tempered tiff is heard by several neighbours, how can that be private?
BUT! the fact that it was taped and sent to that lefty surrender monkey paper, should be unlawful.

Hugh Gibney

24th June 2019 at 4:01 am

It’s not necessary to be an unquestioning fan of Boris Johnson to ask, re the individuals who recorded the altercation between him and his partner and who, after it had been established by the police that no action was needed on their part, leaked the matter to the ‘Guardian’: whose intelligence are these individuals trying to insult by claiming that they acted as they did (by leaking the matter to the ‘Guardian’) because they believed it was in the ‘public interest’ to do so?

Rik Melly

24th June 2019 at 2:30 am

Such snowflakes. The Guardian is unfair reporting on the news. Wah! Wah!

This is the man that thinks he is capable of running a country. He can’t even run a 2 bedroom grief pit in South London.

I predict he does a Leadsome sooner rather than later. Your hero, the great white dope is a coward.

More blue on blue action.

If only we had an opposition. Corbyn should be sued.

Hugh Gibney

23rd June 2019 at 11:14 pm

Excellent article.

realitylite’s opinion

23rd June 2019 at 11:11 pm

I’m surprised there’s not more questioning about how a neighbour was able to obtain a recording. It’s certainly not just a case of using a mobile phone to opportunistically capture an argument you can hear going on next door. Mobile phones are just not sensitive enough to do that. If they were, it wouldn’t be possible to have a conversation in the street. You’d need a sensitive mike, either in contact with the adjoining wall or in proximity to an open window. If it’s through a wall. Possibly through 9 inches of brickwork. Anything’s going to sound like “loud slamming” because simply closing a door normally is going to be conducted directly through the fabric of the building louder than airborne sound.
This sounds more like the neighbours have been actively “bugging” the Johnson residence & recording the product. And the reporting of a disturbance to the police a way of raising the value of the product. My guess is that, in the ordinary way, a neighbour wouldn’t have been aware that there was anything going on.

Bruce Barrow

24th June 2019 at 2:42 pm

Oh dear, the tin foil hat brigade are out. If I have an argument that can be heard in three adjacent homes, this is not bugging or hacking. Arguably it’s an antisocial behaviour order matter. Certainly if the police are called again, it should be.

At least it’s clear now that Mr Johnson is, after all, a Remainer 😉

Graham Dalby

28th June 2019 at 5:37 pm

Has anybody even tried recording a conversation through a party wall on an iphone 10 or similar? To get any such detail you really do need very much better equipment of almost espionage standard. Otherwise it’s just a mumbled mash of shouting and bumps. This must have been set-up and prepared? Are there laws against this kind of voyeurism, bugging and hacking? Has anyone yet heard the recording from outside the Guardian?

James Chilton

23rd June 2019 at 2:36 pm

“It suggests that this paper is so keen to dent Johnson’s reputation and standing……”

Denting Boris Johnson’s “reputation” will be difficult – considering it doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense of the word.

James Knight

23rd June 2019 at 1:13 pm

Where’s Tom Watson when you need him? Where’s Hacked Off? Where’s the Guardian.

Oh, wait a minute…

gershwin gentile

23rd June 2019 at 1:07 pm

Being unable to listen to an actual recording of the incident, I can only go on what has been reported, and that is just quotes. BoJo can be heard saying “Get off my lap top”, then a crash, THEN CaSy can be heard saying “get off me”.

Did CaSy damage BoJos property on purpose because he accidentally spilt some wine on the sofa.

Does anybody remember the massive free pass Susie Boniface got after she was cautioned by the police for assault? How she referred to the man she abused as “Twatface”?

James Hillier

23rd June 2019 at 10:17 am

“This could be a new low for the Guardian.”

In itself quite an achievement for a media outlet that has regularly been sinking to new lows for some time. I hope The Guardian has a hull that can withstand the pressures down where it’s going.

This is story is the perfect cocktail for The Guardian. According to the newspaper’s neurotic, paternalist and puritan interpretation interpretation of feminism, Symonds must be a victim and Johnson is clearly a powerful man. This makes the whole thing a “feminist matter” and instantly elevating anything The Guardian does in connection with the story to the status of a holy deed. After all, anything done in the service of a true religion by its true believers is above criticism. At the same time, Johnson is supporter of Brexit, and so must be morally corrupt. Again, this means that normal moral standards need no longer apply.

Mind you, The Guardian has considered itself exempt from normal moral standards for years.

Mark Jones

23rd June 2019 at 6:56 am

How much was the neighbour paid for the story?
What is his relationship with the Labour Party?
Has he received any encouragement or inducement to report on Mr Johnson’s activities?
If he was so worried about the safety of the people involved, why did he waste time making a recording before calling the police.

Frank Frivilous

23rd June 2019 at 5:17 pm

Exactly. If Symonds was his girlfriend he could just jettison her for another. It seems more likely that she is his Mossad handler who has just determined that he is not a good candidate for Prime Minister.

Terence Hill

23rd June 2019 at 2:27 am

If a woman throws plates in the forest and no one is there to hear it, is the man still in the wrong?

Pennywise The Dancing Clown

22nd June 2019 at 10:23 pm

Couple have row.

Groundbreaking journalism from the Grauniad.

Jody Taylor

23rd June 2019 at 7:32 am

Keep out of peoples’ bedrooms.

Paul Wesson

22nd June 2019 at 5:44 pm

My wife gave me grief over a drop of coffee spilt on a new sofa. We lived to tell the tale.

Dave Barnes

22nd June 2019 at 5:26 pm

He’d just learnt that he was the overwhelming favourite in a two horse race to be PM. She was soon to be photographed on the doorstep of No10 with her partner. They should both be overwhelmingly happy and contented so why were they having a midnight row? This does feel weird and I wonder just how convenient this relationship is.

Erlinda Conisbee

22nd June 2019 at 9:44 pm

In my opinion it’s none of anybody’s business what they do they are matured people that just like everybody has some arguments of differences. What is wrong is this country and the media who will stooped to their lowest level to sell their papers. This is not only here in the uk but all over the civilised world so disgusting and shameful that there is no more dissent privacy even private citizen will connive to those cheap reporters in exchange of money I supposed. This country is all falling apart no more descent and dignified newscasters bbc is now unreliable for true and honest news, and news papers are no difference. All the while I thought only tabloids news papers are unreliable but to learn that The Guardians are doing it now as well I would say shame on you disgusting people

James Knight

22nd June 2019 at 4:52 pm

Couple have row. Hold the front page.

Winston Stanley

22nd June 2019 at 3:48 pm

Two previous marriages and he still does not know not to contradict a woman after she has had a glass of wine? However sober, it is her prerogative to always be right in everything that she says and does. The universe itself is epistemologically set up that way. It ought to be in the marriage contract just in case some simple bloke does not get it. Boris must have been under the influence if he forgot that. She will let the neighbours know, as is her prerogative. Boris was clearly to blame, end of.

christopher barnard

22nd June 2019 at 12:44 pm

The Guardian is bewildered and confused about recent events like Brexit, the rise of populism in Europe and the election of President Trump.

It is panicking, and that panic has reduced it to the level of the gutter press.

Neil McCaughan

22nd June 2019 at 12:01 pm

I’d like to say a word in favour of The Guardian.
Just try wiping your arse on The Independent.

JPM Culligan

22nd June 2019 at 6:42 pm

Surely no point, isn’t that how it’s distributed?

Carolyn Monaghan

22nd June 2019 at 11:56 am

Well, people are always complaining that politicians don’t live the same kind of lives as the rest of us. My neighbours and I have all agreed not to record the screaming matches that go on in our houses.

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