The Leveson Inquiry…Witnesses Week 4 (Monday)

The News Of The World……not quite in the dock. But in the witness box.

But to an extent, the biggest story was outside the courtroom with news that perhaps…..just perhaps……that the messages deleted from Milly Dowler’s phone may have been automatically deleted by her phone company rather than malice from journalists. This led to a lively day for Nick Davies (The Guardian journalist) on TV news who had reported this had been seemingly done by News Of The World journalists, a report which angered the public to the extent that Murdoch closed the newspaper down. And of course the seminal event in setting up the Leveson Inquiry.

Mazher Mahmood, former Investigations Editor at The News Of The World is known as the “Fake Sheikh” because he has stung so many wrong-doers in the guise of an Arab Sheikh. His victims include “Fergie, Duchess of York”. The most interesting piece of Mahmoods evidence was that he gave it away from the cameras and onlookers. “For a good reason” said Leveson and this gave a certain mystique. He was not aware of phone hacking and defended his own exclusives that they were in the “public interest”. When news of the Clive Goodman arrest became known and the culture of phone-hacking revealed, fingers pointed towards the “news desk”. Goodman was the original “rogue reporter”.

Mahmood claims his work has resulted in 261 criminal convictions, the most recent the jailing of three Pakistani cricketers for taking payments from bookmakers. Mahmood denies that Paul McMullan, a previous witness ever worked with him as claimed by McMullan.

Neville Thurlbeck, former Chief Reporter at The News Of The World is next in the witness box. He is under arrest as part of the phone hacking investigation by police and has received assurances that no questions relating to phone hacking will be asked. Thurlbeck talks about “kiss and tell stories” and the sliding scale of payments made to sources. About £15,000 for a front page story. Increased adverse publicity about privacy issues has made “kiss and tell” a dead genre.

Yet almost £1 million was paid to Rebecca Loos who had an affair with England footballer David Beckham. The story was justified in terms of public interest…Beckham had promoted a wholesome family man image and it was in the public interest that the hypocrisy be exposed.

Thurlbeck defends his role in the Max Mosley sting. ..a story he still believes is credible. The alleged “Nazi theme” was the public interest.

Thurlbeck repudiates the evidence of Paul McMullan. The culture of which, McMullan spoke, including the casual attitude to claiming and getting unwarranted expenses was not one he recognised. He states that he used the Private Investigator Derek Webb on dozens of occasions.

Neil Wallis is also under arrest as part of the police phone hacking investigation. Wallis was Deputy Editor of The News Of The World until 2009. He was a member of the Press Complaints Commission for several years. Wallis notes that libel claims have dropped off but privacy is now an issue.

Wallis denies ever paying police for information but admits to a close working relationship with the police. His PR firm also had a contract with the Metropolitan Police.

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