News of the World journalists acted shamefully in the case of Formula 1 boss Max Mosley and should face the highest damages, a court heard this week.
If the claim is successful, the High Court case could shift the balance between freedom of the press and the privacy of the individual.
Mosley, the 68-year-old son of former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, sat quietly in Court 13 on Monday as his barrister, James Price, completed his arguments against the NoW and for the right to privacy surrounding Mosley’s 45-year involvement in sado-masochism.
‘I submit Mr Thurlbeck [Neville Thurlbeck, who wrote the story ‘F1 Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy With Five Hookers’that sparked the law suit] is not a reporter on whom a responsible editor can place any reliance on any matter of any importance.”
‘It is a shameful picture,’said Price, ‘shameful on behalf of Mr Thurlbeck… shameful on behalf of the editor and editorial staff, and shameful because examination of conduct makes a conclusion that they were reckless.
‘We say the intrusive nature of the material is at the highest end of the spectrum, and dissemination was at the highest end, so compensation should be at the highest end.”
Mosley’s case against the News of the World centres on two key elements of The European Convention on Human Rights – Article eight and Article 10.
Article 8 ensures that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence. It is the legislation used by celebrities, including Princess Caroline of Monaco and Naomi Campbell, against perceived media intrusion.
Article 10 ensures that everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
Price reminded the court how Thurlbeck had persuaded ‘Woman E’to wear a hidden microphone and camera and attend a sex session with four other women and Mosley at a flat in Chelsea in March.
He cited the Editors’ Code of Pratice rules on the use of ‘clandestine devices and subterfuge”. The codebook says ‘consideration of the public interest is seldom more important than here”.
It adds: ‘The PCC (Press Complaints Commission) has consistently ruled that journalistic fishing expeditions – where for example hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices are used simply on the off chance of discovering some wrongdoing – are not sufficient justification”.
Mr Price said the decision to publish was driven not by public interest but purely by the ‘phenomenal scale’of the financial advantages of the story and his client should be awarded ‘vindicatory’damages.
Mark Warby, QC for the News of the World, said the investigation was justified under Strasbourg case law, which had a ‘well-established intolerance of acts which serve to promote or glorify extreme Nazi values’as well as under domestic law, where the deliberate wounding of a person, even in the context of sado-masochism, was wrong.
He said the story was a matter of public interest because ‘even in a tolerant society there are some things society does not tolerate”.
It was an important story partly because Mosley was in a position of responsibility and authority as the boss of Formula 1, and partly because the events suggested Mosley had not shrugged off some of the old racism he once endorsed, he said.
Mr Warby said Mosley had spent about £75,000 in one year on his obsession – including renting a bespoke flat in Chelsea for £35,000, and £2,500 a time on sex sessions – and that showed an unhealthy addiction which resulted in extreme violence.
The case ended on Monday afternoon and Justice Eady reserved his ruling, saying he hoped to deliver judgment in the middle of next week.