Thurlbeck denies being part of Mosley "strategy"

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.

Paul McMullan and privacy

Speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press on Tuesday, Paul McMullan, the former deputy features editor at the News of the World, said this:

“In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in …Privacy is evil; it brings out the worst qualities in people … Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it.”

You can almost hear the horrified gasps as this heresy sank in. But ask yourself: at moments in your life when you’ve most fervently desired that something about you should remain private, wasn’t it often the case that this was because you thought — or thought others might think — that there was something disgraceful there?

It is no different with public figures, celebrities, politicians — the class of individuals that, for all the focus that there’s been on Milly Dowler’s family, occupy 99 percent of the media’s intrusive attention.

When an MP I felt very strongly about my privacy as an (undeclared) gay man; but I remain unconvinced that my constituents had no right to know about this; I was happy enough to tell them about the happy, shiny parts of my personal life — my marathon running, etc.

It’s my firm belief that one of the drivers of reform of the laws on homosexuality, and one of the motives that drove many MPs into the Equality lobby — and indeed one of the reasons many have chosen to come out of the closet — was precautionary: they supposed the media would eventually find out. How sure are you that this was to be regretted?

Matthew Parris is a journalist and a trustee of Index on Censorship

Brooks and Coulson "scum of journalism", Leveson Inquiry told

The former deputy features editor of the News of the World told the Leveson Inquiry today the paper’s editors knew that phone hacking was taking place.

In his explosive testimony, Paul McMullan accused former News of the World editor Andy Coulson of having “brought the practice wholesale” to the paper. He added that ex-News International CEO Rebekah Brooks was well aware of hacking, saying “we did all these things [hacking phones] for our editors.”

He went on to call the pair “scum” for denying any knowledge of the practice and “trying to drop me and my colleagues in it”.

In his two-hour account, McMullan said phone hacking was a “perfectly acceptable tool…if all we’re trying to do is get to the truth.” He went on to say the hacking of abducted schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone was “not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do”, adding that the reporters involved were “doing their best” to find her.

McMullan admitted he had attempted to hack the phone of footballer David Beckham, but failed once Beckham answered the call. He also said he had swapped Sylvester Stallone’s mother’s number for Beckham’s with a fellow reporter.

McMullan painted a vivid picture of life at the now-defunct News of the World. He described giving chase to celebrities as “such good fun”, adding that he would be told by the features desk to “take a fast car and see what you can get.” He recalled one of Princess Diana’s security guards offering to tell the paper when she was landing at Helsinki airport in exchange for £30,000. In another instance he recounted, former editor Piers Morgan congratulated him for stealing photos of a former lover of John Major. He earlier quoted Morgan as saying, “I don’t care what it costs, I just want to get the defining stories of the week”.

McMullan repeatedly defended his trade, saying he “used any means necessary” to “catch people who rule over us.” He recounted pretending to be “Brad the rent boy” to get a photo of a priest spanking a young man. “I was either a drug user, a drug dealer or a millionaire from Cambridge,” he added.

When asked about his views on privacy, McMullan was blunt: “Privacy is evil…[it] is the space bad people need to do bad things in.” He added, “Privacy is for paedos” and claimed that “in 21 years of invading people’s privacy, I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good.”

He added that public interest was defined by circulation. “I don’t see it’s our job to force the public to choose, ‘you must read this and you can’t read that’,” he said.

Also speaking today was The Guardian’s Nick Davies, who uncovered the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World this year.

He told the Inquiry that Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator hired by the paper, had only “facilitated” the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone in 2002, and that it was reporters at the paper who listened to and deleted her voicemails.

Davies said Mulcaire was “a brilliant blagger, so he could gather information [and] data from the mobile phone company.”

Earlier this month Mulcaire denied deleting Dowler’s messages.

Davies also said the journalism industry was not “interested in or capable of” self-regulation, citing the Press Complaints Commission’s failure to properly investigate the extent of phone hacking in 2009. He said that the PCC did not take into account getting remedy for victims of the press, adding that apologies should be published as prominently as the stories that had contained incorrect or damaging information.

He cited libel as the “worst burden” facing journalism, advocating a system of arbitration so libel cases could be dealt with outside the courts.

He spoke in favour of an advisory body to guide reporters on whether they were operating in the public interest, noting how it was often difficult to know what the public interest boundaries were.

Former Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt was also in the witness box, describing the atmosphere of the tabloid press as one of “you toe the line or you get punished.” He added that the paper was ideologically driven, and that a reporter’s job was “simply to write the story how they [the paper] want it written”.

When asking editors if he should meet an anonymous caller who phoned the paper and made sensational claims about the death of actor Matt Lucas’ husband, Peppiatt said he was told to “just write it up.”  He added that he invented a story about model and actress Kelly Brook seeing a hypnotist. He said the news editor had offered £150 to the first person to come up with a page 3 story at 6pm on a Sunday.

Reading out a stream of fabricated headlines and recounting a trip to Scotland to stage a mock proposal to Britain’s Got Talent star Susan Boyle, Peppiatt said at the forefront of tabloids’ minds was questioning how far to push boundaries. He added that much of the Star’s content was based on stories taken from the Daily Mail, and that if a reporter found a Mail story was based on poor evidence, “you would be kicked back to your seat fairly robustly”.

Peppiatt labelled the redtops’ practice as “free speech Darwinism…[they] will shut up voices contrary to theirs.” He noted how one freelance reporter at the Star expressed unhappiness over the tone of the paper’s coverage, and was then given “every anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant” story for the next fortnight.

He added that he was “sick” of editors “stepping forward saying ‘moral considerations are at the forefront of our minds’,” saying it was “certainly not true.”

However, he highlighted the economic pressures facing newspapers, citing financial reasons behind why he stayed at the Star. “There are so few jobs for journalists in current climate,” he said, “I couldn’t afford not to be working.”

Peppiatt, who resigned from the tabloid in March 2011 after two years at the paper, also said he had received threats after his departure, including a message that said “you’re a marked man until you die”. He said he was the victim of a “campaign of harassment”, and told the Inquiry he was taking legal action against an unnamed person in the tabloid world who he says threatened him for speaking out.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow, with evidence from former Number 10 director of communications Alastair Campbell, and Alec Owens, an ex-policeman who worked on the Information Commissioner’s Operation Motorman inquiry.

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