The former TV editor of the News of the World has told the Leveson Inquiry how she “fell out of love” with the industry after being asked to write an untrue story about a celebrity being cheated on by her partner.
Sharon Marshall, now a television critic for ITV’s This Morning, said she could not stay on at the News of the World, stating she had been asked to breach the PCC code over the story. It involved a pregnant celebrity whose partner had allegedly been unfaithful, though Marshall discovered the photo evidence supplied was two years old.
“Morally, it wasn’t going to happen,” Marshall said of the story, which she refused to carry out. “I made sure I killed it.”
She then resigned from the paper despite being asked to stay on. The individual who asked her to write the story, she said, remained in their job.
She described the “tough” and competitive enviroment at the tabloid. “You literally didn’t know what the person next to you was doing.” She described editorial meetings with line managers where she would be asked what she had done to stand up a story, but not about sources.
She said she was “not involved in any direct conversation” in which she was asked to work unethically, adding that she did not see any evidence of unethical behaviour with vast majority of those she worked for.
She denied a bullying culture at the tabloids, but said that “some editors are less than idyllic.”
The Inquiry also heard extracts of Marshall’s book, Tabloid Girl, which detailed her career at the redtops. Lord Justice Leveson asked if the book was “a true story”, as its cover read. Marshall repeated that the text was filled with “heightened reality” and “a bit of topspin”.
“I was writing something somebody told me in the pub,” she told the Inquiry, adding that she did not have “hard evidence” for the stories because she was not “writing a witness statement.”
“I intended it to be a good yarn,” she said.
When Leveson questioned if “topspin” meant “lying”, Marshall said that she would call it “colour”. She later said one example of it was a part of the book in which she described how she “gatecrashed” celebrity weddings.
Another story she recounted involved her being asked to travel to Rhyl to find someone who would back up a kiss and tell story about a member of the band Steps. Marshall admitted an advert for the story, with the pre-ordained headline “My five, six, seven times a night with Steps girl”, was running before the story was written.
During a slightly tense back and forth between Marshall, Leveson and Inquiry counsel, David Barr, a defensive Marshall admitted she “shouldn’t have allowed” the book’s cover to read “a true story”, but repeated that the text involved “dramatisation”.
She concluded that the maxim her book ends with — “fuck the facts…just file” — was not one that the entire industry tabloid worked by. “It’s a few individuals,” she said. “Bad apples.”
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