Even those who crossed swords with Max Mosley in the course of the privacy crusade he waged over many years before his death on Monday aged 81 readily accept the multimillionaire’s position in future textbooks on the subject is assured.
The spark was the News of the World’s report on his involvement in an alleged sadomasochistic orgy in 2008. Mosley sued the newspaper for breach of privacy and won, although a personal tragedy came into play when his eldest son Alexander died at the age of 39 from a cocaine overdose. Mosley believed his son might have been spared a descent into deep depression and death were it not for the furore around the newspaper’s coverage.
Lawyer Mark Stephens, who opposed Mosley on a number of occasions including his unsuccessful attempt to tighten UK privacy laws at the European court of human rights, pointed out that Mosley, who qualified as a barrister in 1964, also had an interest in libel and privacy going all the way back to his training under Maurice Drake, later a high court judge.
“But he was also an obvious candidate, with the benefit of hindsight perhaps, for a change in the privacy law. He had the money. He had the motivation and he wouldn’t be deterred or embarrassed by the things in the News of the World case,” said Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy and expert in reputation management.
Following that victory Hacked Off was launched, the pressure group that counted Mosley as one of its earliest supporters. It played a key part in persuading then prime minister David Cameron to launch the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal, which led the paper’s closure.
Mark Lewis, who represented many phone hacking victims during the inquiry, recalled Mosley’s role in underwriting lawsuits taken by victims of alleged intrusive reporting against the News International, owners of the now defunct tabloid.
“He used to say ‘I can’t match Rupert Murdoch pound for pound, but as a multimillionaire I can cause him a headache’,” said Lewis.
“I think it fair to say, without his assistance and financial strength to continue the hacking claims, they would have fizzled out after my initial first round. No-one should underestimate his role, motivated by the effect of the News of the World on his life and his determination for revenge.”
Mosley’s backing, through a family charity named after his deceased son Alexander, also played a role in funding the state-approved independent press regulator, Impress. Initially, it was in the form of £3.8m over four years, with a further £3m agreed in 2018. If necessary, Mosley pledged in 2016, his family’s support for Impress could continue until 2026.
Hacked Off paid tribute to the late campaigner, saying Mosley had devoted the last 13 years of his life to campaigning for reforms to the regulation of the press.
“Max’s mission was to ensure that others would not suffer the same mistreatment as himself and his family, and that mechanisms would exist to provide access to justice which was otherwise reserved for the wealthy. Although this made him a target of intense press and political attacks, his commitment to reform on behalf of others remained undimmed,” said a spokesperson.
“It is thanks to his courage and generosity that the movement for a more ethical press remains so effective today.”
In terms of a wider media legacy, there was also his successful legal action against France and Germany to force Google to monitor and censor search results about the alleged orgy. “He’ll be remembered as one of the first people to ever have something expunged from the internet,” added Stephens.
“In future we will look back at Max’s contribution and draw a clear line in the evolution of privacy because it became part of his mission. A clear part of what he was doing was fighting his own cause but also he was fighting what he thought were egregious excesses and he persuaded other fellow travellers along that route.
“There are those, like me, who feel an evolution of privacy law has gone too far, but it was Max Mosley who, with his fortune, lit the blue touch paper.”