The motorsport boss Max Mosley, who is suing the News of the World, for breach of privacy, has defended his lifelong interest in sado-masochistic sex as a harmless pursuit whose practitioners have the same right to privacy as anyone else. The case at the High Court in London, which opened yesterday, could make legal history because Mr Mosley's lawyers are pushing for "exemplary" damages to deter all newspapers from intruding into people's sex lives for the titillation of their readers.
To emphasise the harmless nature of his sexual games, Mr Mosley claimed that being beaten with a cane until your bottom bleeds is no more painful for an experienced masochist than a shaving cut.
"You have to understand that people who do this a lot become very sensitive and bleed very easily and the pain involved in that, compared to all sorts of things, is very modest," he told the court. "I'd far rather do that than jump into a cold swimming pool. The level of violence is minimal, the drawing of blood a little like cutting yourself shaving."
News Group Newspapers contests Mr Mosley's claim for breach of privacy on the grounds that the public had a right to know about the private activities of a prominent figure who presides over one of the world's most popular spectator sports. A pillar of their defence is the disputed claim that Mr Mosley, whose mother and father were admirers of Adolf Hitler, introduced a Nazi theme into his sexual role-playing.
Mark Warby QC, representing News Group, also claimed that to inflict violence that causes someone to bleed, even on a willing victim, is a criminal offence, a suggestion Mr Mosley dismissed as absurd. Mr Mosley also denied that sado-masochism is any more "immoral" than any other form of extramarital sex between consenting adults.
"I fundamentally disagree with the suggestion that any of this is depraved... [or] immoral. I think it is a perfectly harmless activity provided it is between consenting adults who want to do it, are of sound mind, and it is in private," he said.
He also admitted that sado-masochism can seem ridiculous to outsiders, and that even the participants occasionally have difficulty keeping a straight face. The same problem afflicted some of the lawyers and members of the public as they listened to yesterday's evidence. At one point, one woman in the public gallery was in tears – though it was not obvious whether they were of mirth or distress.
The case, which is expected to last all week, concerns a story published on the front page and two inside pages of the News of the World on 30 March, under the headline "F1 boss has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers".
The "orgy" – which Mr Mosley preferred to describe as a "party" – took place in the basement of a Chelsea flat on 28 March, and was secretly filmed for the News of the World by one of the women present. Mr Mosley disputed the description of the women as "hookers" or "prostitutes" on the grounds that they were not paid to have intercourse, although he gave them £500 each for joining in two elaborate games. One involved Mr Mosley being humiliated and beaten, while in the other, two of the women acted out the parts of victims. In the first game, Mr Mosley used the name Timothy Barnes, while the woman who humiliated and caned him called herself Officer Smith. In the second, which involved the women dressing up either in uniforms or in striped prisoners' garb, Mr Mosley and a woman identified in court only as B spoke in German while their "prisoners" protested in vain that they could not understand what they were being told to do.
One of the more dramatic moments came when the court was played a recording of part of this game, in which Mr Mosley and "B" talked in German while another women – identified as A – protested, in English: "But we are the Aryan race, the blonds." Next, there was a loud crack, followed by a woman's cry of pain as she was "punished" for speaking out of turn. "It's perfectly clear that Woman A understood this to be a scene involving Nazism," said Mr Warby.
Mr Mosley dismissed the Aryan reference as "a throwaway line in a general scenario". He vehemently denied that the role-playing had any Nazi overtones, or that the costumes belonged to any recognisable historical period. "I can think of few things more unerotic than Nazi roleplay," he said. "There was not even a hint of that – certainly not in my mind and, I'm convinced, not in the minds of any of the other participants." In one terse exchange, he sarcastically asked Mr Warby: "Did you have any particular period in mind for the mid-thigh camouflage?" Mr Warby retorted, with even heavier sarcasm: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Mr Mosley was questioned at length about his relationship with his father, Sir Oswald Mosley, who founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932, and married Diana Mitford, one the Mitford sisters, in the presence of Hitler and Goebbels.
In his youth, Max Mosley was involved in a group his father founded after the war, the Union Movement, which called for immigration controls and for black and Asian immigrants to be paid to leave Britain. He said in court that he had never renounced his father, but he had ended his political activity around 1963. He has been president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile since 1993. One of the attractions of motor racing, he said, was that it allowed him to escape the shadow of his parentage because "the name Mosley meant absolutely nothing".
He was married in 1960, and began to indulge in sado-masochism around 1963, but his wife and children knew nothing of that side of his life. "That headline in the newspaper was completely, totally devastating for her and there is nothing that I can say that can ever repair that," he said. "Also, for my two sons, I don't think there is anything worse... than to see in a newspaper... pictures of the kind they printed."
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