Motorsports Boss Mosely Offers to Underwrite Suits Against Murdoch

By | July 19, 2011

Former motor racing boss Max Mosley says he has agreed to financially underwrite lawsuits against News International, which owns the now defunct tabloid News of the World, by victims of its allegedly abusive reporting practices.

Mosley, who won damages from the News of the World after it published lurid revelations about his sex life, said that he has agreed to cover potentially large costs which alleged hacking targets might incur if they reject settlement offers and press forward with litigation against Murdoch-owned newspapers.

Mosley told Reuters in a telephone interview last Friday that “in a few cases” in which plaintiffs have filed civil lawsuits against Murdoch newspapers for damages in connection with allegations of hacking or other possibly illegal intrusions, he has, through his lawyers, assured lawyers for the plaintiffs that, “If you should lose, I’ll do the necessary. I will meet the cost. If the worst happens I’ll take care of it.”

A British media executive said Mosley had told him he was willing to underwrite the costs if plaintiffs sued and lost.

“He said he’s willing to do it,” the source said. “It’s Mosley’s revenge.”

In May, Mosley told the American magazine Vanity Fair: “In a number of cases I’ve said to people: ‘If you lose, I’ll stand behind you’.”

“In Britain, to bring a lawsuit, you either have to have no money at all or be eccentric.”

Mosley’s statements to Reuters are the first confirmation that he has actually agreed to financially underwrite legal actions which bear potentially high financial risks due to the peculiarities of the British legal system.

He said that while he believes the legal risks for him are “small”, the amount of money that ordinary people could put at risk in such actions is large. But “I can afford to do this,” Mosley said.

He added that the number of lawsuits he had agreed to back was “fewer than ten”.

Reuters is a competitor of Dow Jones Newswires, the financial news agency that News Corp acquired along with the Wall Street Journal in 2007.

SEX CASE

Mosley acknowledged his financial backing is designed to embolden plaintiffs with cases against News International to pursue their claims beyond any out of court settlement Murdoch’s company might offer and to the stage where the police or other bodies would have to provide potentially embarrassing legal “discovery” materials to the plaintiff’s lawyers.

Mosley said he believed the only way full details of questionable reporting practices would become public was through persistent pursuit of such civil claims.

But without Mosley’s financial backing, the financial risks for individual plaintiffs of continuing to litigate such claims against a large media group like News International could become prohibitive.

Under British law plaintiffs who lose their case in court, or who win an award smaller than any settlement offered earlier have to pay legal fees incurred by both themselves and the people they are suing from the date that the settlement was rejected, legal experts say. In a case which goes to trial, these fees can run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mosley is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, late leader of a British fascist party who was held in detention by the British government during part of World War II. Until 2009, Max Mosley headed the Formula One association, a non-profit group which governs Formula One motor racing around the world.

Mosley tangled with the News of the World in one of the more colorful trials in recent British legal history. In a 2008 page one story, the Sunday tabloid alleged that he had consorted with five prostitutes in what the paper described as a “sick Nazi orgy.”

A British judge ruled the story violated Mosley’s privacy, awarded him 60,000 pounds damages, and ordered the paper should pay Mosley’s costs, estimated at another 450,000 pounds.

The judge in the case, Sir David Eady, said in his ruling that Mosley “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities (albeit unconventional) carried on between consulting adults on private property.”

Eady also found “that there was no evidence that the gathering on 28 March 2008 was intended to be an enactment of Nazi behaviour or adoption of any of its attitudes. Nor was it in fact.”

Jonathan Caplan, a prominent British barrister specializing in media law, told Reuters that if he makes good on his offer to underwrite legal actions against Murdoch-owned papers, Mosley could face substantial bills.

Mark Lewis, a lawyer who has represented targets of the weekly tabloid’s controversial reporting practices, which allegedly included voice mail hacking and paying bribes to policemen, declined to comment on whether Mosley was backing any of the litigation he is pursuing.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the British government was setting up a wide-ranging inquiry, under the leadership of a judge, into allegations about intrusive or illegal reporting methods used by Murdoch-owned and other British media. The inquiry will also examine current U.K. regulatory arrangements for the media and relationships between the media and British politicians.

(Edited by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith) (Created by Simon Robinson)

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