It’s hard to believe that the uncertain, rambling, factually way beyond inaccurate and at times exasperating person I’ve seen giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon is one of the sixty richest men in the UK, and has a net worth of almost a billion notes. Richard “Dirty” Desmond’s testimony was pub bore, punch drunk denial, and slow motion car crash rolled into one.
There was a glimmer of humour as Desmond was wrongly addressed as “Mr Dacre”, and he showed his dislike for the Vagina Monologue by calling the Daily Mail the “Daily Malicious”, with Dacre characterised as “the fat butcher”, this last an excellent slice of hypocrisy, given the number of hacks, sub-editors and other unfortunates that Des and his pals have sent down the road over the past decade.
But otherwise it was turgid stuff. Desmond was away with the fairies as he talked of increasing the Daily Star’s circulation from 400,000 to 800,000 (it’s more like 627,000 to 658,000), saying of this appallingly downmarket rag “Just look at the product”, but then needing much prompting in defining terms such as “ethics”. “I don’t know what the word means” he conceded.
The Inquiry was regaled by Desmond reeling off all the subjects that his magazines had covered over the years – except, for some reason, those containing what he calls “adult content” and what Dacre calls “porn” – then given the jaw-dropping assertion that “we took the Express back to its former glory”. With Max Beaverbrook at the helm and a four million a day print run? Don’t make me laugh.
But it was when the subject of Madeleine McCann was raised that Des sold the pass big style. He kept on putting forward the idea that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) somehow dumped all the blame for defamatory articles about the McCann family on his papers, and that all other titles were just as bad. But the fact of the matter suggests that he is in bovine by-product territory.
The Express Newspapers titles published over a hundred articles about the McCanns that were significantly or seriously defamatory. They ended up printing prominent front page apologies in both Daily Express and Daily Star, and paid over half a million pounds in damages. Moreover, they paid around £375,000 more in damages to the so-called “Tapas Seven”.
So when Des asserted that then editor of the Express Peter “Mentally” Hill tried his best to give the facts about the McCanns, he was talking total crap. His suggestion on press regulation didn’t sound all that different to the PCC, and on top of all that, his longeurs were needless and frustrating for all concerned. His appetite for self promotion was unfunny, and Leveson was clearly relieved to adjourn for the week.
And this is a modern day media mogul? God help us all.