Neville Thurlbeck at the Leveson inquiry

Thurlbeck tells the Leveson inquiry he was not involved in the 'decision-making process' in publishing the Mosley story

Former chief reporter for the News of the World Neville Thurlbeck has insisted he was not "part of the strategy" behind the newspaper's publication of an article which accused Max Mosley of taking part in an orgy, and the decision not to approach him for comment.

Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry today Thurlbeck was questioned at length about the Mosley article, for which the former motorsport boss successfully took privacy action against the now-closed newspaper, both in 2008 and earlier this year in France.

Thurlbeck detailed his investigatory process for the story, saying the newspaper felt at the time "we had every justification in running it".

In relation to the decision not to approach Mosley for comment prior to publication, Thurlbeck added: "I imagine the editor feared this story could be prevented from coming out if we went to him."

But Thurlbeck insisted he was "not part of that decision-making process".

"It didn't come across my radar … therefore I didn't need to consider it. I had to consider whether or not what I was writing was accurate, that was my task. These decisions as to whether or not it went on the website, whether to confront Mosley with the evidence, did not come on my radar."

Counsel to the inquiry QC Robert Jay referred to the story as having had "a cloak of secrecy" around it, which Thurlbeck added "happened on every story we did".

"I am just a person who is investigating it, meeting the contacts and making sure what I write is accurate, beyond that the strategy is not mine.

"I was never part of the discussions on that strategy."

Leveson questioned him further on the point: "You weren't just the reporter, you were the chief reporter, who had been news editor, who had been investigations news editor … You weren't party to any of this?"

Thurlbeck was insistent in his response, saying that "this is the way decisions were made".

"Decisions on whether or not we confront people before we publish is always the editor's position, not even the news editor's position. Especially not the chief reporter's position. Decisions are made at the very highest levels."

He added that he "assumed" the decision was taken not to put the story to Mosley "because I hadn't been instructed to go and speak to Mosley".

During his evidence Thurlbeck was also questioned on an email, sent by the former chief reporter to women involved in the story, which was said to request a further interview which would afford them continued anonymity.

Thurlbeck confirmed that he did not draft the email himself, but said he takes "full responsibility" for it.

"It was somebody on the news desk who had been on holiday when the part one story was broken.

"When he returned from holiday he realised he had been on holiday when at that time we believed we had one of biggest stories we'd broken for many years. He was determined in week two he would get a better story than the part one."

"It's true to say those emails were dictated to me, however, they were sent by me willingly and in my name," he added.

After further questioning on the individual being referred to from QC Robert Jay, Thurlbeck identified him as the news editor at the time, Ian Edmondson.

"This is the process involved in these emails being sent. I did say, and I take full responsibility for this, it was me who sent them. I could have said no and I didn't. I am prepared to accept full responsibility for those emails being sent. I am not blaming anybody I am merely outlining the process involved."

"... What we were doing is in the course of normal journalistic practice, if you have a very good story and you want to follow it up you would seek to get more evidence.

"On this particular week it was imperative to speak to the girls involved. We found out who they were, identified them and we were offering them an opportunity to remove their identities from what would be a natural part two.

"In return for withholding their identity we hoped to get more detailed testimony from them. We didn't see it as a threat, we saw it as an offer."

Earlier in his appearance before the inquiry, which continues at the time of writing, Thurlbeck said the newspaper "firmly believed at the time we had a story massively in the public interest".

But he said he agreed that without the "Nazi theme" allegation, which Mosley denied, there was no public interest defence.

In his 2008 judgment on Mosley's privacy action Mr Justice Eady found there was no evidence to support the claims that the activities were "intended to be an enactment of Nazi behaviour or adoption of any of its attitudes".

Appearing before Leveson himself last month, Mosley told the inquiry that since publication of the News of the World articles he has had "hundreds" of stories referring to the material removed from other websites and has ongoing litigation in "22 or 23 countries".

Mosley has also been pursuing a prior notification case which would mean newspapers would be required to inform subjects of articles before publication, but in September his appeal to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on the issue was rejected.

Speaking more generally during his evidence session he told the inquiry the "kiss and tell story is largely dead as a genre".

"I would say in the last three years we have taken great note of privacy matters and that was the first question after 'is it true': 'are we intruding, is there any justification?'

"There would be lengthy debates about this, with the editor, the editor would demand to know what level of public interest there was in order to avoid any possible privacy issues."

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