Thurlbeck denies being part of Mosley "strategy"
Marta Cooper: Thurlbeck denies being part of Mosley "strategy"
12 Dec 11

The former chief reporter of the News of the World has Denied any involvement with the paper’s strategy over publishing a story accusing ex-Formula 1 boss Max Mosley of engaging in a Nazi-themed orgy,

Neville Thurlbeck told the Leveson Inquiry he was not involved in any decison to put video footage of Mosley’s orgy on the News of the World website. He added that he was not instructed by the newsdesk to notify Mosley of the story, and therefore did not seek his comment.

“I am just person who is investigating [a story]”, Thurlbeck said.

Lord Justice Leveson seemed stunned at Thurlbeck’s lack of involvement. “Aren’t you being a bit unkind to yourself,” he asked, “you were the chief reporter.”

Thurlbeck responded that strategy decisions were made by the editor. “The chief reporter and the news editor…are all very grand-sounding titles but they don’t really call the shots at all.”

Thurlbeck said he imagined the editor would fear the story would be prevented from coming out if Mosley were notified prior to publication. “We all know Mr Mosley would have sought an injunction,” he told the Inquiry. in the event of an interim injunction, he said, the story would have been leaked and become the “currency and property of our rivals.”

Thurlbeck agreed with counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, that there was no public interest in the piece without the suggestion of a Nazi theme, and it was this feature that “persuaded” him the story was in the public interest. He said the consenus at the paper was “we had a legitimate story we need to run.”

Thurlbeck received fierce questioning from Jay and Leveson. He was examined over emails to the women involved in the Mosley orgy about a follow-up story. They were offered anonymity, a sum of money and pixellation of their photographs, or the opposite if they did not agree to the paper’s terms. Thurlbeck took full responsibility for sending the emails, but told the Inquiry they were drafted by news editor Ian Edmonson.

“It was offering the girls a choice,” Thurlbeck claimed. Leveson pressed him, reminding him of Mr Justice Eady’s inference that the emails constituted blackmail, and asked if the girls’ right to privacy had been discussed at any point. Thurlbeck said it had not.

Mosley sued the paper for a breach of privacy in 2008. He was paid £60,000 in damages.

Thurlbeck also defended his splash on David Beckham’s affair with Rebecca Loos, noting that the footballer had cultivated and marketed an image of having a fairytale marriage. “We felt it important to expose it as a sham,” Thurlbeck said.

He repeatedly refuted evidence given to the Inquiry by former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan that painted an image of corruption at the redtop. Thurlbeck asserted that the paper’s staff were “exemplary” and that the culture at the paper was one of “thoroughness”. He added that McMullan’s view that circulation defined public interest was a “travesty”.

Thurlbeck added that a greater focus on privacy matters had rendered kiss and tell stories a “dead” genre.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from the News of the World’s former head of legal, Tom Crone; Farrer & Co lawyer Julian Pike; and Harbottle & Lewis’ Lawrence Abramson.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.