UK tabloid right to publish Beckham 'affair': reporter

12th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The News of the World ran allegations that football icon David Beckham cheated on his wife after deciding it showed his family man image was a sham, the paper's former chief reporter said Monday.

Neville Thurlbeck told the Leveson public inquiry into the ethics, culture and practices of the British press that the now-defunct tabloid decided that the story was clearly in the public interest.

He described the lengths the paper went to to verify kiss-and-tell stories, saying that for every one published up to 10 others were dropped because the required level of proof could not be obtained.

Thurlbeck has been arrested as part of the police investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, and therefore did not testify on that subject so as not to prejudice the probe.

He has not been charged with any offence.

"A great deal of activity went into establishing the truth of what people were telling us," he told the inquiry in central London.

"The myth was we made it all up and that still prevails, I think," Thurlbeck said.

"But we didn't. We went to enormous lengths to satisfy our team of lawyers that what we had was factually correct... and demonstrably correct," he said, citing phone calls and photographic evidence.

"Privacy has become a huge matter over the last three years and I would say the kiss-and-tell story now is largely dead as a genre," he said.

In 2004, he got the scoop on allegations that England, Manchester United and Real Madrid star Beckham had an affair with his assistant Rebecca Loos.

"We decided there was huge public interest in that matter because the Beckhams had been using their marriage in order to endorse products," he said.

There were making "millions of pounds on the back of that image.

"It was a wholesome image that the family cultivated and the public bought into on a massive scale and we exposed that to be a sham."

Thurlbeck said he spent five months on the story in total, including six weeks in Australia and at least five weeks in Spain.

He was forced into revealing the magnitude of how much money Loos received, saying it was more than £100,000 ($156,000, 118,000 euros).

"It was the most I think I'd ever paid for a story. We're talking about a six figure sum. Just," he said.

Earlier Mazher Mahmood, the former News of the World investigations editor, told the inquiry that he had not been aware of any phone hacking at the tabloid, while defending his undercover work.

Mahmood, known as the "Fake Sheikh" after the disguise he regularly used to dupe targets, said he first heard of it after the arrest of royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed for voicemail hacking in 2007.

Mahmood rejected testimony to the inquiry by Paul McMullan, another former News of the World journalist, that hacking was a perfectly acceptable tool, saying: "That certainly doesn't reflect my experience of the News of the World."

But he conceded that he had "seldom" been in the newspaper's office due to the nature of his work.

Mahmood, who now works at Murdoch's Sunday Times, claimed his work had led to more than 260 "successful criminal prosecutions", the most high-profile case involving three top Pakistan cricketers jailed last month for corruption.

The reporter said he had targeted people who were guilty of criminality, moral wrongdoing and hypocrisy, adding that only a minority were celebrities.

All his investigations were scrutinised carefully by lawyers and the newsdesk, he insisted, adding that tip-offs normally came from well-established informants but were "thoroughly checked" before they were written up.

© 2011 AFP

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