Thurlbeck at Leveson: 'The era of kiss and tell is over'

Former News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck has revealed that the paper paid around £100,000 to Rebecca Loos for her 2005 kiss and tell story about England footballer David Beckham.

And he also said that since the Max Mosley legal action of 2008, and other legal actions, the era of the tabloid kiss and tell had come to an end.

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry this morning he revealed that the average fee paid by the News of the World for information leading to a front-page story was £15,000-£20,000.

Justifying kiss and tell stories about extra marital affairs, Thurlbeck said: 'We exposed a politician for having an affair. It led to a very big story in our newspaper last year.

'We thought long and hard about whether or not we should run the story. It became apparent that there was a public interest justification because the man had used his family and his happy marriage in his election literature."

He used the 2005 British Press Awards scoop of the year story – about footballer David Beckham's secret affair with Rebecca Loos – as another example of a kiss and tell story that was in the public interest.

'We decided there was a public interest in that matter because the Beckhams had been promoting themselves as a very happily married couple and they were making millions of pounds on the back of that image. They gave the impression that it was a fairytale romance – and even got married on thrones.

'We thought it was important that we exposed that the fairytale was a sham."

Pressed by Lord Justice Leveson about the 'order of magnitude'of the payment from the News of the World to Loos, Thurlbeck said: 'It was the most I'd ever paid for a story. We are talking about a six figure sum, just."

13/12/2011 UPDATE: Neville Thurlbeck has got in touch with Press Gazette to say that the implication was that figure was just over £100,000 - rather than being just under £1m.

Thurlbeck says he didn't encourage Nazi salute

Thurlbeck was also grilled about the News of the World's 30 March 2008 front page story, which claimed that then Formula One boss Max Mosley was involved in a Nazi-themed orgy. The suggestion that the orgy had a Nazi them was disputed by Mr Justice Eady who ruled against the News of the World in a 2009 privacy action and awarded Mosley record damages of £60,000.

Thurlbeck rejected a suggestion that he had asked his informant – one of the five dominatrices employed by Mosley to take part in the sex party – to encourage Mosley to make a Nazi salute.

He said that he had merely instructed her on how to 'get'such as a salute in picture when he was showing her how to use the video camera.

Thurlbeck said: 'What I was saying to Woman E was ‘when you want to capture him on video doing the sieg heil, stand back otherwise you won't get him in the frame.

'She said there was going to be a Nazi theme. The most iconic act you would expect to see would be a sieg heil salute. She didn't mention that there would be one and I didn't encourage her."

Speaking about the public interest justification for the Mosley story, Thurlbeck said: 'It was very clear to us that the implication there was a Nazi theme was sufficient justification to run the story."

He said that the story started with a tip from an individual called 'Jason'on 14 March, who he met at Waterloo Station on 19 March.

Thurlbeck said he recalled having a conversation with deputy news editor James Mellor about the public interest in running the story, but he said that he had no conversations with then editor Colin Myler about the Mosley story.

Asked why the News of the World did not contact Mosley in advance of publication, Thurlbeck said: 'I would always wait for instruction from the newsdesk before revealing our hand to anybody who was the subject of an investigation by the News of the World. I wasn't told therefore I assumed that we wouldn't be putting the allegations to him…"

He added: 'I would have taken the view that we had to protect that story and ensure that Mr Mosley did not prevent us from running it."

Blackmail claims

Thurlbeck also faced questioning about an incident which came up during the 2009 Mosley privacy trial.

This was the revelation that in the week after the first News of the World story he emailed one of the girls involved in the original sex party and informed her that the paper was planning to identify the girls in the next week's paper. The email stated that if the girl cooperated with a story, the News of the World would protect her identity."

On this point Thurlbeck said that someone on the newsdesk had come back from holiday particularly keen to obtain a strong follow-up story. He said that the incriminating emails had been dictated to him by that individual on the newsdesk.

After being pressed by Lord Justice Leveson to name that individual, Thurlbeck did so – identifying a former news editor for the paper.

Rejecting the suggestion that this amounted to a blackmail attempt, Thurlbeck said: "A decision had been made that the part two of the story was the girls - to get their story and publish their photographs. At that time the intention was to publish the story, I was asked to communicate to the girls, to tell them that they would be named and they would be pictured.

"My newspaper wanted to get their full testimony, in return we would given them testimony."

Speaking in general about kiss and tells, Thurlbeck said that staff at the News of the World had given far more consideration to privacy in the last three years in the wake of various injunctions and the Mosley judgment.

He said: 'I would say the kiss and tell story is largely dead as a genre. In the last three years we were taking great note of privacy matters.

'Before 2008 and the privacy ruling on Mosley and various other injunctions and rulings there was less regard to privacy. There was more regard to whether the story was true, there has always been that regard."

Nazi orgy

Defending the News of the World's description of Mosley's sex party as being Nazi in theme, Thurlbeck said: "There was a lice inspection, there was simulated rape, there was beating of the prisoners, there was chanting of 'we are the Aryan blondes'. These things led us to believe that this was strongly influenced by a Nazi theme."

He said that was the feeling at the News of the World and that it still is among former NoW journalists, and among other journalists that Thurlbeck knows.

He said: 'We were absolutely certain that we got the facts right and nobody has come forward to say that that what I sad had happened did not happen. It was a faithful account of what went on between those four walls."

Counsel for the inquiry David Jay pointed out at this point that this wasn't the view of Mr Justice Eady, who ruled in 2009 that he believed the orgy did not have a Nazi theme.

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