Benjamin Pell (also known as "Benji the Binman", born December 1963) is a British man who is known for having raked through the dustbins of law firms representing prominent people in search of incriminating or compromising documents that he could sell to the press. Reportedly, Pell has now 'retired' from this activity and makes his living as a media law expert.
An adherent of Orthodox Judaism who was once a trainee lawyer, he (initially) failed his law exams at University College London in 1986 which he was expected to pass. He later gained a third-class degree, but could not gain employment with a law firm. Pell pretended to be following a legal career for eight months until his family discovered the truth.
Pell began his activities in uncovering discarded newsworthy documents, classified as theft, around 1997. The documents he found have been involved in several court cases and led to many newspaper stories, including ones involving Elton John, All Saints and the 'cash for questions' libel case between Mohamed Al-Fayed and Neil Hamilton. He said in 2002, "But I was never interested in the political stuff. I was a showbiz animal, and my showbiz stuff was top quality. [...] You'd get more money for a little nib about Hear'Say than you'd get for anything about Gordon Brown and David Blunkett." In the case of Elton John, Pell had hacked into the computers of organisations connected with the singer and looked through the rubbish of John Reid Enterpries, the company of his former manager. Piers Morgan at the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 admitted buying documents for stories from Pell while editor of the Daily Mirror, including Elton John's discarded bank statements, and said that such behaviour was on the "cusp of [the] unethical".
Documentary and court cases
Pell was the subject of a Channel 4 television documentary Scandal in the Bins (2000) produced by Victor Lewis-Smith. Another documentary, reportedly in production at around the same time, produced by Iain Jones, led Pell to claim in 2001 that John Mappin had fraudulently misrepresented his claim to be able to make a movie about Pell, and had "hoodwinked" him out of nearly £80,000. The following year Pell successfully sued Mappin, whose family founded the Mappin & Webb jewellery firm, and recovered his £77,750, Mappin had said he could commission a "well-connected Hollywood film-maker", but Jones had turned out to be a hairdresser. The court ordered Mappin to pay Pell's legal costs and interest on the money he had been given. According to an interview Pell gave at this time, he ended this regular activity in February 2001.
In 2003, he won damages of £125,000 in an out-of-court settlement from the Sunday Express which had falsely accused him of providing the IRA with information. and slander against Mark Watts, the journalist who verbally accused him of the same act. Watts wrote a book about Pell titled The Fleet Street Sewer Rat, published in 2005. He has been prosecuted himself and was only fined £20, due to his claim that he lived off a weekly £10 payment from his father despite the estimated £100,000 a year he was earning from selling documents to newspapers. He has asserted that it was about £25,000. He was mentioned regularly in Private Eye, which nicknamed him 'Benji the Binman'.
Benjamin Pell can often be found in the Royal Courts of Justice taking notes on libel trials. He has a particular interest in libel cases and is well known to the Queen's Bench jurists. In a media law quiz conducted by the International Forum for Responsible Media on 3 January 2012, Pell had the distinction of not only scoring 100% correct answers to 49 tough media law questions, but also pointed out errors on the part of the quizmaster and unhelpful ambiguity in a number of the questions.
This was his second win in succession, but there will be no immediate repeat as "The runaway winner in 2010 and 2011, Benjamin Pell, has graciously agreed to forgo the chance of an hat trick and has, instead, agreed to take on the role of quiz master."
References and sources
- O'Neill, Brendan (2009-07-10). "BBC News: Magazine: Tabloid tactics". BBC. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- Tom Leonard "Benji the Binman cleans up", telegraph.co.uk, 22 March 2002
- Bennetto, Jason (2000-07-28). "Man who scrapes the bottom of the barrel for profit". The Independent.
- Frances Gibb "‘I should be licensed to be the eyes and ears of the public’, says Benjie Pell", The Times, 21 July 2011
- Maguire, Kevin (2000-07-27). "Muckraker who feeds off bins of the famous". The Guardian.
- Ungoed-Thomas, Jon (2009-07-12). "Hacked Off: Allegations of phone-hacking unpicked". The Sunday Times.
- Steven Moss "Fayed 'paid for stolen papers'", The Guardian, 12 December 2000
- Steve Boggan "Hacker stole secrets of stars from dustbins", The Independent, 14 March 1998
- Pierre Perrone "Arts: Sorry seems to be the hardest word", The Independent, 13 May 1998
- Andrew Pugh "Morgan urges Leveson to show more balance to press", Press Gazette, 21 March 2011
- "Leveson Inquiry: I used Benji the binman, says Piers Morgan", BBC News, 20 December 2011. Morgan admits this is unethical behaviour in his book The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade (London: Ebury Press, 2005, p.185-86). In the clip, Robert Jay's cites this passage during his questioning of Morgan at the Inquiry.
- "Scandal in the Bins", BFI Film Forever
- "Scandal in the Bins (2000)", IMDb
- Conal Walsh "Binman Benji sues jewellery empire heir", The Observer, 6 May 2001
- Tom Leonard "Benji the Binman wins back £77,500", telegraph.co.uk, 20 March 2002
- Dan Milmo "'Benji the binman' wins fraud claim", mediaguardian.co.uk, 19 March 2002
- Dyer, Clare (2003-07-05). "'Binman' Benji in Bloody Sunday libel win". The Guardian.
- Bell, Matthew (2009-07-26). "Watch out Desmond, Benji the Binman is still after you". The Independent.
- Chittenden, Maurice (2005-03-13). "Secrets of a Fleet Street rubbish man". The Sunday Times.
- Scandal in the Bins (Television production). Associated-Rediffusion Television. 2000.
- "Inforrm Media Law Quiz of the Year, 2011 – The Answers and the Result". The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog. 2012-01-17.
- "Inforrm 2012 Media Law Quiz of the Year". The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog. 2013-01-01.
- Tim Adams "Benjamin Pell versus the Rest of the World", Granta, 87:21 (2004)