A reporter working for The Sun newspaper posed as an undergraduate student at Goldsmiths in order to shadow Princess Beatrice during the first week of her degree at the university, it has been disclosed.
Former tabloid journalist Richard Peppiatt attended classes with the Princess, and even sat next to her in lectures in October 2008 during her first week studying at the college in Lewisham, part of the University of London.
Last month Peppiatt caused a storm when he publicly resigned from the Daily Star in protest at the newspaper’s standards.
Peppiat’s disclosure came during a public debate on ethics and the free market in the media, held at Goldsmiths on Thursday. Peppiatt, a guest at the event, told the audience: “I have walked these halls before. A few years ago I was sent here by The Sun to follow Princess Beatrice.”
The reporter said that when the Princess began her studies, he was instructed to go to Goldsmiths by a newsagency – which he refused to name – working on behalf of The Sun. Using a false name, Peppiatt told staff at the university he was studying History and History of Ideas, the Princess’s course, and said he had lost his timetable.
Despite not being on any formal records, he was given a timetable and shown seminar registration lists, which contained details of when and where the Princess would be attending classes. He later supplied the timetable to the news desk at The Sun, which paid a fee for the information.
Although she was protected by two security officers, Peppiatt claims he was able to speak to the Princess and sit next to her in lectures. A story, which appeared in The Sun in October 2008, included a detailed account of Beatrice’s allegedly late arrival at her first lecture, which Peppiatt had also attended. Peppiatt says he was never formally registered at the college and avoided signing any documents verifying his identity.
A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: “The College does its utmost to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all its students, in line with Data Protection law, which dictates that we do not comment on the circumstances of any individual student. The College would treat any instance where a student is believed to have supplied information to the media on any other student, as being a serious breach of those Regulations.”
Since the Princess began studying at Goldsmiths, the college and Buckingham Palace have insisted to the media that she is a private person and off-limits to journalists. She completes her degree this year. Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the breach of security.
News International, which publishes The Sun, did not respond to requests for a comment.
Speakers at Thursday’s debate on “the free market cannot deliver ethical journalism” included former Daily Mirror editor and Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Today programme Kevin Marsh and political blogger Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes. Other panellists included Angela Phillips, senior lecturer in journalism at Goldsmiths, Gavin McFadyen, head of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, and John Lloyd, director of journalism at the Reuters Institute in Oxford.
The panel discussed questions surrounding the increasingly monopolised state of the media market place and the ethics of state-funded journalism. MacFadyen, Phillips and Marsh contested that the free market imperative in journalism too often overrides ethical considerations, and that greater regulation of the press was required to safeguard ethics. A show of hands at the end of the discussion suggested their view had prevailed.
Marsh singled out the Press Complaints Commission for criticism, calling it, “a watchdog not only without teeth, but without jaws.”
Meanwhile, Greenslade, who had been argued against the motion, ended the debate by proposing that extending the licence fee model by which the BBC is publicly funded into newspapers, would temper the market imperative that is seen by many as driving down ethical standards.
Gavin MacFadyen, who set up the Bureau for Investigative Journalism to counter what he sees as a decline in the tradition of ethical, public-spirited journalism said: “As journalists, our first obligation is to readers, not to markets. That obligation is that we never lie to them. Ever.”