How Hislop hounded a 'hypocrite' until he decided to come clean

Cahal Milmo reports on the vain battle to keep an affair secret
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The Independent Online

When the BBC's respected political editor was spotted in the regular company of a female journalist in the autumn of 2002, most assumed the relationship to be platonic. Married for more than a decade and the father of three children, Andrew Marr's reputation as a cultured and incisive commentator did not include a label as one of Westminster's philanderers.

But when the woman, at the time single and a rising star in the pressured world of journalism, went on maternity leave the following year and side-stepped attempts by colleagues to ask who the father was, establishing the paternity of her child became something of a parlour game among the journalists of the Parliamentary Lobby.

It was perhaps proof of Mr Marr's lack of renown as a Lothario that no newspaper was in a position to publish a story revealing his affair with the fellow political hack, which had ended before the summer of 2003, until January 2008, when the child was approaching school age.

It is at this point that what was yet another titillating example of the ability of the Palace of Westminster to generate affairs and infidelities among its participants took on an infinitely more complex and politically significant hue.

Around the same time that Mr Marr admitted having had an affair to his wife, the Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley, lawyers acting for the broadcaster, who is a former editor of The Independent, went to the High Court in London and obtained one of the first of the new super-injunctions.

In common with the same legal directions that currently prevent information about the sexual indiscretions of Premiership footballers, minor celebrities and a Hollywood actor entering the public domain, the order obtained by Mr Marr against Associated Newspapers (publisher of the Daily Mail) went beyond the previous strictures of media injunctions. As well as keeping secret the identity and alleged activities of the people involved, the "super" bit of the order meant its very existence could not be revealed either.

While the public at large duly knew nothing of Mr Marr's adulterous relationship or his supposed love child, it was common currency in Westminster and spread rapidly across Fleet Street. For Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye and scarred veteran of many a court battle over revealing details that lay open public figures to charges of hypocrisy, the knowledge proved particularly unpalatable.

Mr Hislop told The Independent yesterday: "Here was a political reporter, and not just any political reporter but the political editor of the BBC, whose job it was to challenge politicians about their failings, their lapses in judgement, including in their private lives. And he takes out an injunction via a High Court judge preventing anyone revealing just that sort of behaviour. To boot, he had also previously written an article stating that it was Parliament and not judges who make any privacy law."

The article in question was published by Mr Marr when he was editor of The Independent in 1996 criticising what he called "intrusion for entertainment" and stating his support for privacy legislation. He wrote: "Sniffing out double-standards and hypocrisy also means, on occasion, reporting the gap between what powerful people say and what they do in bed or behind closed doors... There is no reason why MPs or journalists or anyone else in the public eye who are hypocrites shouldn't be exposed. But no one should be exposed simply because it is fun, or sells papers, or helps make an ideological point."

After the issuing of the super-injunction in January 2008, lawyers for the Eye began three years of legal trench warfare with Mr Marr's lawyers, costing the satirical magazine "tens of thousands" in fees. The counter-offensive, which Mr Hislop said was driven by Mr Marr's public standing, initially bore fruit in 2009 by obtaining an agreement that the "super" element of the injunction be removed, allowing the publication of the fact that the broadcaster had obtained a court order but prohibiting the revelation of details about why it was granted, including the identities of the woman journalist and her child.

In the meantime, bloggers and chatroom visitors exploited the frontier spirit of the internet to spread the name of Mr Marr's former lover across cyberspace. Last summer, the saga took a further turn when it emerged that a DNA test had established that the BBC journalist was not the father of the child.

It was in this context and amid the furore about the increase in super- injunctions, that the Eye recently recommenced its efforts to have the gagging order lifted in its entirety, writing to Mr Marr's lawyers pointing out that it had become untenable to prevent publication of the journalist's fathering of a child who had turned out not to be his.

With the threat of impending court action and further legal fees hanging over him, it is understood that Mr Marr decided to withdraw the injunction after consulting his wife and family, granting an interview to the Daily Mail to break the news. It is understood that his former lover learnt of the removal of the court order in the early hours of yesterday.

Mr Hislop said yesterday that Mr Marr had conceded his conduct laid him open to accusations that he is a "stinking hypocrite". The broadcaster insisted his legal manoeuvrings had achieved their purpose of keeping his marriage and family together.