F1 boss wins £60,000 for breach of privacy

Max Mosley has won Dh440,700 in a court case against Britain's largest selling newspaper, the News of the World.
Max Mosley leaves the High Court in central London yesterday after winning a privacy case.
Max Mosley leaves the High Court in central London yesterday after winning a privacy case.

LONDON // The head of Formula One's governing body yesterday won a headline-grabbing court case in which he sued a British tabloid newspaper for reporting on his secretly filmed sadomaschistic activities with five women.

Max Mosley, president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), accused the News of the World - the country's largest selling newspaper - for breach of privacy after it ran a front-page story in March about the party, which it claimed had a Nazi theme. He was awarded £60,000 (Dh440,700) at the high court in London in a case that some observers feel could have profound implications for British media and privacy laws.

However, the judge, David, made an award only for compensation and rejected Mr Mosley's bid for punitive exemplary damages, which would have been unprecedented in an invasion of privacy case. Afterwards, Mr Mosley said that he was "delighted with that judgment, which is devastating for the News of the World". "It demonstrates that their Nazi lie was completely invented and had no justification," he said. "It also shows that they had no right to go into private premises and take pictures and film of adults engaged in activities which are no one's business but those of the people concerned."

The judge said in a written judgment that Mr Mosley had a "reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities [albeit unconventional] carried on between consenting adults on private property". "I found that there was no evidence that the gathering on March 28 2008, was intended to be an enactment of Nazi behaviour or adoption of any of its attitudes," he said. "Nor was it in fact. I see no genuine basis at all for the suggestion that the participants mocked the victims of the Holocaust."

It was the allegation of Nazi connotations that most disturbed Mr Mosley, 68. He is the son of the late Sir Oswald Mosley and Diana Mitford, the most prominent fascists and Nazi apologists in Britain in the 1930s and whose wedding guests included Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. Throughout the five days of the hearing this month, Mr Mosley, who is married with two children, seemed unabashed by the fact he spent £75,000 a year on sexual activities.

He portrayed such sessions as therapeutic, almost normal. "I fundamentally disagree with the suggestion that any of this is depraved, fundamentally disagree with the fact that it is immoral," the former barrister told the court. "I think it is a perfectly harmless activity provided it is between consenting adults, who want to do it, are of sound mind, and it is in private." The motorsport boss's lawyer described the only "disgusting" behaviour as that of the newspaper, which had paid one of the five alleged prostitutes to film the session, for which Mr Mosley had paid £2,500, at an apartment in London. A video clip of the event subsequently became one of the most popular sites on YouTube.

Mr Mosley, who claimed unlimited damages for invasion of privacy, maintained that there "was not even a hint" of Nazi-inspired behaviour during the session. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he said disclosure of the details of the case had proved "totally devastating" for his wife of 48 years, adding that he could think of "nothing more undignified or humiliating" for his two sons to experience than reading about their father's acts.

James Price QC, his lawyer, said Mr Mosley had attracted such attention only because of his parents' fascist past. If the story had been about Bernie Ecclestone, the multimillionaire chief executive of Formula One Management, it would not have been called a "sick Nazi orgy", added Mr Price. The newspaper's justification for the Nazi claim was that the women were made to dress up in striped prisoner outfits and had their hair checked for lice while Mr Mosley barked orders at them in German.

One of the women, who was of German origin, said he had played a guard and had worn a German Luftwaffe jacket, along with a suspender belt, stockings and high-heel shoes. During the session, Mr Mosley and the woman could be heard shouting in German, giving orders and making threats. A woman's English voice was clearly heard begging: "But we are the Aryan race, blondes." Nonetheless, all four women - the fifth, who was paid by the newspaper, did not appear, citing emotional stress - denied there was any Nazi-themed role playing. Instead, they said they were acting out a prison fantasy.

One of them, a student in her twenties, said: "I am particularly appalled at the accusations that our scenarios had any Nazi connotation or overtones. No Nazi images, uniforms or material were used." She said she regarded the activity as something conducted "amongst friends, doing something I enjoy and all those involved enjoy". Mark Warby QC, representing the News of the World, had argued that publication was justified in the public interest. "The activities that went on here are not deserving of respect, however much they might have been kept behind closed doors," he said.

Mr Price said on Mr Mosley's behalf: "This should not happen again and newspapers need to be taught that disregard of the rights of others does not pay." The fear amongst the British media is that yesterday's judgment will further tighten the clamps on their freedom, particularly in regard to the rights of privacy enjoyed by celebrities. The judge, however, insisted that it was not intended to inhibit serious investigative journalism into crime or wrongdoings "where the public interest is more genuinely engaged".

The executive at FIA has backed Mr Mosley, who is not paid for serving as its president. There has been no comment from Mr Mosley's family. @Email:dsapsted@thenational.ae

Published: July 24, 2008 04:00 AM


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