It's hard not to think in headlines when you meet Neville Thurlbeck. "Is this the most hated man in Britain?" springs to mind. Fairly or not, the former News of the World hack is the name most closely associated with explosive revelations about phone hacking and other tabloid dark arts, which have so far shut down one Sunday tabloid and any number of careers.
And yet the man himself seems weirdly disconnected from the storm. "Until the moment of my dismissal, I was always held in very high regard. I got dismissed, yet I don't think I received a bollocking in my life," he tells me in the Surrey home he shares with his wife and two children. Ejected unsentimentally from the News Group Newspapers family, he still talks of Rupert Murdoch as a father figure whom he will embrace once more when this scandal is over.
Why is he talking now? He set two conditions for agreeing to this interview: we had to mention talking2minds.co.uk – a charity that provides support for troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (he is now its PR manager). And we say: "Mr Thurlbeck asked us to stress no payment was sought or received for this article." But perhaps he also thinks that he can use the interview to reach out as his beloved former employer launches a new Sunday newspaper.
Once one of Mr Murdoch's fiercest rottweilers, he and his colleagues sowed the seeds that News Group Newspapers is now reaping, most recently last week with the settlement to the singer Charlotte Church.
He started at the NOTW in 1988 and worked there until last year, minus four years at the Today newspaper. He loved the paper and it loved him: there was almost nothing he would not do, of which more later.
The beginning of the end came in 2008, when he was told of an email containing transcripts of 35 hacked voice messages titled "For Neville". He was sacked and arrested for phone hacking (which he denies) last year.
Clad in his customary suit and tie, he feeds the log fire. He is courteous to a fault and apparently totally untroubled by introspection. He admits his name does appear "hundreds of times" on the thousands of pages of notes produced by Glenn Mulcaire – the private investigator at the centre of the hacking row who kept notes on the phones he was asked to intercept – but insists he never commissioned them. "The very words 'for Neville' implies it was ordered by Neville. But I am absolutely certain that when the truth finally comes out this will be demonstrated to be false and others will be responsible," he says. "I provided the evidence and information to the editor on who was involved. That is why I was not dismissed. I have since found further evidence showing the involvement of others."
So what about appearing in court charged with bribing a policeman? "The case was dropped because I didn't do anything wrong." But what about the time he was accused of making up a story and appeared naked on the internet in a video that led to him being labelled "Onan the Barbarian"? "The Press Complaints Commission cleared me," he says – adding that he can talk about that only off the record.
So, even though he is now suing his former paper for unfair dismissal and breach of contract, he insists he is not driven by bitterness. He feels he is owed some loyalty: he refused to testify against those who fingered him over phone hacking – despite being offered immunity from prosecution.
"I'm upset they [the Murdochs] think I let them down because I can promise them I never let them down. It will eventually come to light one of their longest members of staff never let them down. I think they will be big enough to acknowledge that. I'm happy to let that be water under the bridge and we will shake hands."Reuse content