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Elton John World News: Editors dish dirt in row over dustbins

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Pell becomes pawn in battle of satire mags

Sunday 9 May 1999 @ 2:00 - GMT

The Times of London

 

Ian Hislop, the Editor of Private Eye, accused Mohamed Al Fayed yesterday of hiring an investigator to steal from his dustbins in an attempt to unearth embarrassing material.

 

The charge, denied by the Al Fayed camp, is the latest shot in an increasingly bitter war between the satirical magazine and Punch, which was relaunched by the Egyptian millionaire.

 

Mr Hislop named the culprit as Benjamin Pell , 36, who has earned notoriety for raiding dustbins for secret documents relating to celebrities then selling them to tabloids.

 

Mr Pell denied the claim yesterday. "I have not delved into anyone's rubbish bin since I helped myself to some refuse from Elton John 's manager last April," he said. "I am now a respectable property dealer."

 

But the plot thickened when James Steen, the Editor of Punch, confessed to having helped himself from the bins at Private Eye.

 

"It was a waste of time. I never found anything worthy of publication in Ian Hislop's bins. What I found was mostly letters to his aunt about her dogs," he said.

 

Mr Hislop, who is on holiday, levelled the allegations against Punch after a letter he wrote to a contributor mysteriously appeared on its pages.

 

In a rare signed column in Private Eye, Mr Hislop wrote: "On closer examination I realised what they had reproduced was not the letter that I actually sent but a draft version which I had thrown in the bin."

 

He added that Mr Pell had suffered a misfortune when 15 sacks of rubbish were recovered from his van, including a sackful that he had taken from Private Eye.