Max Mosley, the former boss of Formula One, launched himself into the News of the World phone hacking row last night when he attacked the paper's claim of "a zero-tolerance approach to wrongdoing".
Mr Mosley accused a senior NoW reporter of blackmail after the embattled paper claimed it disapproved of wrongdoing following the suspension of a senior executive named in litigation relating to phone hacking.
Mr Mosley's attack will add to the growing pressure on newspaper and its former editor Andy Coulson, David Cameron's press secretary.
This pressure increased further last night when Labour MP Tom Watson called on James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, the NoW's parent company, to take action against the reporter in question.
Mr Mosley accused the paper of inconsistency, citing remarks by the judge about the behaviour of the paper's chief reporter in a controversial privacy case Mr Mosley brought in 2008. In the case, Justice Eady drew attention to "a remarkable state of affairs" in which no action was taken by the paper's editor despite claims, denied by the reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, that he had sought to blackmail two women involved in the case. The judge also referred to "inconsistencies" in Mr Thurlbeck's evidence, which, he said, "demonstrate that his 'best recollection' is so erratic and changeable that it would not be safe to place unqualified reliance" on it.
Describing the newspaper's "zero-tolerance" claim as "disingenuous nonsense", Mr Mosley told the IoS last night: "Mr Justice Eady made it quite clear that Thurlbeck set out to blackmail two of the ladies involved in my case. If that is not wrongdoing, I don't know what is. Blackmail means up to 14 years in prison. It's in another league from phone hacking.
"The judge also made it plain he did not believe Thurlbeck's evidence. No honest newspaper could possibly have kept him on as chief reporter."
Mr Murdoch called the investigation, which revealed the married Mr Mosley had paid five prostitutes to take part in sado-masochistic orgies, "outstanding journalism written by great journalists". The NoW made the "zero-tolerance" assertion last week after it suspended news editor Ian Edmondson, who was named in litigation relating to allegations that the actress Sienna Miller's mobile had been hacked.
Mr Thurlbeck's name has been raised before in connection with controversy at the paper. He was named as a co-author of the original story about Prince Harry which gave rise to the imprisonment of royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. In that trial, the court heard of a transcript of a voicemail message marked "for Neville", although it was never established which Neville, or if there were anyone else of that name at the paper.
Mr Watson has written to Mr Murdoch asking him to examine the Thurlbeck case. "Given that it would be reasonable to assume that you are made aware when your senior employees are adjudged to be blackmailers in the High Court," writes Mr Watson, "please can you tell me: 1. What action you now plan to take against Neville Thurlbeck? 2. Why you did not suspend Neville Thurlbeck as soon as Mr Justice Eady published his judgement, given your zero tolerance approach to wrong-doing? 3. Why you did not report the matter to the police, given the serious nature of the criminal offences being committed by your employee, on your behalf? I know that you will not want your family business to be increasingly seen as a criminal enterprise besmirching the name of my country's democracy." The News of the World declined to comment.
The High Court is expected to be shown further documents on Wednesday relating to NoW's hacking of the mobile of football agent Sky Andrew.