The Guardian journalist who has been leading the investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking affair last night ‘apologised’ to the paper admitting it had been singled out through “bad luck”.
Nick Davies was speaking at a debate organised by City University when he said (with a touch of irony in his voice): “I’d like to start off by apologising to the News of the World, I feel sorry for them.
“It’s sheer fluke and bad luck that this newspaper is the subject of all this attention. It’s just because Clive Goodman got caught hacking the voicemails of members of the Royal household rather than ordinary punters.
“This illegal activity was going on in many Fleet Street newsrooms.”
He added: “When it comes to voicemail hacking lots of newspapers were doing it.”
The debate was entitled: “How far should a reporter go? The lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking story.”
Davies said that he believes some sort of tribunal system should be created to curb what he sees as the excesses of tabloid newspapers prying into people’s private lives.
He said that such a tribunal would decide whether or not the public interest was served by the publication of private information – such as the sexual affairs of footballers.
Max Mosley was also on the panel at last night’s event ahead of his appearance at the European Court next year.
He wants the law to be changed so that in cases such as his, newspapers have to contact the subject of their investigations and give them the chance to block publication in court. Under the Mosley system, it would be up to judges to decide – before publication – whether stories which breach privacy are in the public interest.
In 2008 Mosley won record privacy damages of £60,000 from the News of the World at the High Court after it published a story accompanied by video revealing his extra-marital sexual encounter with five paid dominatracies.
Explaining the shortcomings of the current system he said: “When I sued the News of the World I was awarded £60,000 damages and £420,000 costs. My actual solicitor’s bill was £510,000. So the net result was I got a bill for £30,000 and all the private information repeated again in court over a period of two weeks.
“It’s like going to court because somebody broke your leg and getting the other leg broken and a big bill.”
Press Gazette asked the panel where they thought the public interest lay if – instead of Max Mosley – it was the Prime Minister who had paid sex workers to spank his bottom behind his wife’s back.
Nick Davies said: “I don’t know, that’s what we need to find out.”
Andrew Caldecott QC, who was chairing the event, said: “I’m fairly confident that in that case publication would be allowed [by the courts].”