Let's go back to an extraordinary week just over 3 years ago. In January 2012 the Telegraph looked at A4e's published accounts for the year to March 2011 and reported two facts, in separate sentences. Emma Harrison owned 85% of the shares; and the company had paid out £11m in dividends. I reached for my calculator and did the sums; £8.6m for Harrison. With her salary as Chair it came to a pay-out of £9.5m. I dashed off a blog post. Re-reading that, I didn't write the startling headline I thought I did. But it was enough. A writer for Private Eye who reads the blog saw the post and checked the figures (this isn't guesswork - he confirmed it). His deadline for copy for the magazine was close, and he went with what became the killer fact - Harrison had paid herself £8.6m out of public funds. It was early in February and the timing was excellent. The Public Accounts Committee was about to grill people from the welfare-to-work industry, including A4e. We know that members of the committee read the Eye (and I believe at least one follows this blog). So that was the stick with which to beat the hapless chap from A4e - £8.6m.
What was the reaction in the media? At first, they were not very interested. The Guardian covered it, in sober fashion, as did the Telegraph. And then, nothing. It was all very disappointing. What more did they want? But then the Daily Mail decided to wade in, all guns blazing. Let's be clear, I am not a fan of the Mail. Just the opposite. But this time they had done their research and decided to trash Emma Harrison, comprehensively. The article was devastating, tearing into her lifestyle, her history and her company. It was horribly personal. And they didn't stop there; there were several more articles through what must have been a dreadful week for Harrison. The BBC stayed silent on the matter and one could only wonder if there was some sort of political censorship going on. At last, after several days, Paul Mason was allowed to make a brief report on Newsnight.
It all made Harrison's position untenable. She announced that she had resigned from her role as the government's "family champion"; and 24 hours later came the news that she was standing down as Chair of A4e.