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David Beckham’s libel case against In Touch magazine has been thrown out of an American court. Beckham brought the £15.5m lawsuit over an article which alleged that he had paid for sex with a prostitute. He sought USD25m in compensation. The judge accepted that the article was innaccurate but could not establish malice on the facts of the case. This is required under US law, although a German court has found in their favour and awarded damages. He intends to appeal the decision.
Footballer and man David Beckham has had a libel claim rejected by a California court. Beckham claimed that celebrity gossip magazine In Touch had defamed him by reporting he had paid prostitute Irma Nici $10,000 for sex.
While the magazine’s publishers did not attempt to defend the truth of the claims, District Judge Manuel Real found that such a story was in the public interest (as Beckham is a public figure), and there was no evidence of malice in the magazine’s story, based on an interview with Nici.
Beckham’s lawyers have vowed to appeal the decision. Why he didn’t just sue in England, we’ll never know. Top US celeb sites National Inquirer and TMZ are both blocked in the UK, as their publishers fear the long reach of England’s infamous libel laws. At very least, Beckham would not have had to prove malice — not a requirement in English law. It would, however, be interesting to see if an English court would agree with District Judge Rael’s defintions of “public interest” and “public figure”.
Meanwhile, back on this sceptred isle, Press Gazette’s Grey Cardigan points us to a fantastic (and I mean that literally) “warning” sent by Shaun Robinson, PR man for United Utilities in Narnia, sorry, the north-west of England:
“LEGAL ADVISORY FROM UNITED UTILITIES: NOT FOR PUBLICATION.”
“This advisory relates to stories in today’s Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, which are based on a false and inaccurate story on the Lancashire Telegraph website. The stories falsely assert that a hosepipe ban is expected in the North West; or that there are fears of one; or that one is imminent. All of these statements are entirely false and inaccurate.
“We would therefore advise you not to repeat the false claims of a hosepipe ban, without speaking to us first. To re-publish false and inaccurate information now that you are aware of the true facts would constitute a malicious falsehood under the laws of defamation.”
Now, Lord knows some dubious libel cases have come to trial in England. But malicious falsehood Shaun? Really?
When Paul McMullan, the former News of the World journalist, spoke to the Guardian the other day he did something slightly odd. He was describing how routine it was for staff at the paper to use dubious methods — and he mentioned David Beckham, twice.
First he was explaining that Andy Coulson, the former editor now working in Downing Street, must have been aware of these methods, but would not have been told about every single instance. By way of example, McMullan said: “It wasn’t of significance for me to say I just rang up David Beckham and listened to his messages.”
And a little later, illustrating the activities of the paper’s specialist phone-hacker, Glenn Mulcaire, he said: “He was hacking masses of phones. We reckoned David Beckham had 13 different SIM cards, and Glenn could hack every one of them.”
In a way it is hardly surprising that Beckham’s name should come up in this affair, given how much he was and is in the news. But then again it hasn’t come up in this context before, at least not prominently. Why would McMullan pluck his name out of the air like that? Could he be telling us something?
Along with Elle Macpherson, Prince William and Gordon Taylor (definite), and John Prescott, Vanessa Feltz and Jemima Khan (possibles), not to mention at least 85 others, could the golden boy of football, one of the most famous people on the globe, have been among the hackers’ many victims?
It’s surely enough to prompt another look at the sensational scandal of summer 2004, when the Rebecca Loos revelations scraped the gloss off the Beckhams’ marriage. Now, which paper was it that broke that story? Why, the News of the World.
And who was the reporter? None other than Neville Thurlbeck, who shared so many bylines with royal editor and convicted hacker Clive Goodman, and who seems likely to have been the intended recipient of the famous “for Neville” email full of hacked messages (though he says he never saw it).
Thurlbeck’s Rebecca Loos expose did not, on the face of it, involve voicemail messages in the style of Mulcaire and Goodman’s stream of illegal stories in 2005-6. Indeed it happened before Mulcaire had even developed his technique of accessing voicemails, if the evidence given in court in 2007 is correct.
But it did involve mobile telephones.
A Sunday Times narrative of the case, written in July 2004, runs like this:
“…all this while Neville Thurlbeck had been beavering away at the News of the World, gathering details of the affair, doing ‘bog-standard, old-fashioned hack work’ — knocking on doors, nurturing contacts.
“At the end of March, Thurlbeck made a breakthrough, obtaining solid proof that Loos and Beckham had been in a sexual relationship: a SIM card containing salacious text messages that Beckham had been continuing to send Rebecca.
“He also established, significantly, that the mobile phone being used to transmit these messages was, without doubt, Beckham’s…
“Thurlbeck says he cannot identify his sources, only that they were either extremely close to Rebecca, or extremely close to Beckham, or both.
“On Friday, April 2, Thurlbeck called on Rebecca at her parents’ home to tell her the News of the World would be running a story on Sunday about her affair with Beckham and that it would include intimate details of their ‘text sex’.”
So, was Thurlbeck merely engaged, as he recalled for the Sunday Times, in “bog-standard, old-fashioned hack work”?
Well that is what he said, but bear this in mind. The judge in the Mosley privacy trial remarked of Thurlbeck that “his ‘best recollection’ is so erratic and changeable that it would not be safe to place unqualified reliance on his evidence…”
Now look again at at Paul McMullan’s words about Mulcaire: “This was just commonplace. He was hacking masses of phones. We reckoned David Beckham had 13 different SIM cards, and Glenn could hack every one of them.”
McMullan was talking about an even earlier time, in 2001 or before. What he implies, though, is that even back then Beckham was a priority target for dubious methods. That certainly won’t have changed after McMullan left the paper.
If somebody ever gets around to investigating this affair properly, they should ask a question or two about David Beckham. And in the meantime, Beckham himself might consult his lawyers, on the basis that Murdoch is giving away cash in these cases.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, when the News of the World broke Loos/Beckham story, its editor was Andy Coulson.