Former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, has told the Leveson Inquiry he had a “bullish” approach to journalism and that editors after him were right to be cautious.
Mr MacKenzie, who edited The Sun from 1981 to 1994 and oversaw some its most famous front pages – including one headlined Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster – was the first to give evidence before the tabloid’s editor Dominic Mohan, royal editor Duncan Larcombe and Gordon Smart, editor of its Bizarre showbusiness column.
As Mr MacKenzie’s evidence began, he was asked if, during his time at the helm of the paper, he had had any regard for privacy.
The journalist answered: “Not really, no.”
He went on to describe his style of journalism as “rather bullish” and said: “If it sounded right, it probably was right and therefore we would lob it in.”
He admitted though, that after he left the tabloid world, editors began to act with more caution.
:: Follow our live blog of proceedings from the Royal Courts of Justice
Mr Mackenzie explained that he thought there was snobbery in the newspaper industry with tabloids and broadsheets treated differently.
He used an example of The Guardian story which alleged that the News Of The World (NOTW) had deleted schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemails.
He said that if The Sun had got that story wrong it would have been shut down.
He has previously described the press standards inquiry as “ludicrous” and suggested it is only being held because of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “obsessive arse-kissing” of Rupert Murdoch.
Mr MacKenzie and Mr Mohan are being quizzed on press ethics
Mr MacKenzie became heated when asked about The Sun’s coverage of television presenter Anne Diamond’s son’s funeral, despite her asking the media not to print photos from it.
He denied that Mr Murdoch had told him to “go after” Ms Diamond, a claim that she made during her evidence to the inquiry.
He then recalled how The Sun had worked with Ms Diamond and her then husband to set up a cot death funeral which raised over £250,000.
Mr MacKenzie said Ms Diamond was a “devalued witness”.
Two other former editors of The Sun, David Yelland and Stuart Higgins, have provided witness statements to the inquiry.
The showbiz editor Gordon Smart told the inquiry he had no knowledge of phone hacking at The Sun or when he worked briefly at the NOTW.
Gordon Smart said he was not aware of phone hacking
He said his job was a balancing act and that it would be very hard to do it if he was “constantly crossing swords with celebrities”.
And royal editor Duncan Larcombe told the panel he was also unaware of phone hacking taking place.
He said the “culture is, and always has been, to get stories right”.
Referring to Mr MacKenzie’s earlier comment Mr Larcombe added that if he just “lobbed stories into the paper” he would be “lucky to have a job in Tesco”.
Lord Justice Leveson will also hear testimony from the editors of the Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, the Independent, the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Express this week as the investigation into the culture and ethics of journalism continues.
Another key figure in the British media, Richard Desmond, owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star newspapers, as well as Channel 5, will give evidence on Thursday alongside current Daily Express editor Hugh Whittow and former editor Peter Hill.
Richard Desmond, of Express Newspapers, gives evidence this week
Mr Hill is expected to be quizzed on claims by a former Express reporter that he was to blame for a series of false stories about Madeleine McCann.
Express Newspapers paid out more than £500,000 to the McCanns in 2008 for libellous coverage in its four titles following the Leicestershire girl’s disappearance.
Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, and Independent editor Chris Blackhurst have been called to appear on Tuesday, along with William Lewis, who is now general manager for News International’s titles but was formerly editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph.
Current Daily Telegraph editor, Tony Gallagher, will also give evidence on Tuesday, while the editor of the Mail on Sunday, Peter Wright, will appear on Wednesday. Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is not expected to give evidence until February.
The Leveson inquiry was set up by the Government last summer following revelations that the NOTW commissioned a private detective to hack murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone after she went missing in 2002.
The first part of the inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press in general and is due to produce a report by next September.
The second part, examining the extent of unlawful activities by journalists, will not begin until detectives have completed their investigation into alleged phone hacking and corrupt payments to police, and any prosecutions have been concluded.