Max Mosley, the motor racing multi-millionaire, is bankrolling a plan to expose potential blackmail and intimidation against politicians by Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group. Mr Mosley said in an interview with The Independent that he was funding legal assistance for MPs to reveal their experiences of the country's largest newspaper group – in an attempt to demonstrate its secret power in British politics.
In explosive evidence this week, the Leveson Inquiry revealed the existence of secret contacts between the office of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and a lobbyist at News International's parent company, News Corp, aimed at furthering its controversial takeover of the broadcaster BSkyB.
After the release of the 161 pages of emails, Mr Hunt's special adviser, Adam Smith resigned, but Mr Hunt is still clinging to his post.
Mr Mosley – who won £60,000 damages from the News of the World in 2008 over false allegations he had taken part in a "Nazi" orgy – believes at least 10 MPs may have important evidence about the behaviour of News International towards politicians.
He said: "Organisations like Hacked Off are trying to make sure that everything that should be put in front of Leveson will be – and that's particularly important where there have been a large number of cases where News International have set out to intimidate, even blackmail, members of Parliament and other people in positions of authority.
"So as far as it's possible to do so, those facts have to be brought to Leveson and I'm trying to help in a modest way. I am making legal advice available."
MPs fearful of disclosing embarrassing evidence could give their evidence anonymously, the 72-year-old said, adding that intermediaries were contacting current and ex-MPs on his behalf to assess whether they wished to come forward.
For years, News International has been suspected of exerting a powerful influence behind the scenes in politics by exploiting the power and electoral endorsements of its newspapers: The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and the now-closed News of the World.
Very few MPs have so far publicly claimed that they have been targeted, though it is known that the News of the World hacked the phones of several Cabinet ministers, including John Prescott (while he was Deputy Prime Minister), David Blunkett and Mr Hunt's forerunner, Tessa Jowell.
The Labour MP Tom Watson – who was tailed by a NOTW private detective in 2009 while he was investigating rampant law-breaking at NI's headquarters in Wapping – has said attempts were made by the company to call him off. Chris Bryant, a Labour front-bencher who is also a columnist for The Independent, revealed in a Commons debate last year that an associate of Rupert Murdoch had warned him that campaigning on hacking would "not be forgotten." Mr Mosley said that he knew of two other cases where News International had brought undue influence to bear on MPs.
News International, which has 40 per cent of the national newspaper circulation in the UK, has always denied it meddles in politics. At the Leveson Inquiry this week, Rupert Murdoch, News Corp's chairman and the chief executive, surprised many observers when he said: "I have never asked a prime minister for anything."
The octagenarian billionaire also rejected evidence from former editors that he interfered in the content of The Times and The Sunday Times (though he said he set the political stance of The Sun) – or that his newspapers peddled his commercial interests.
In 2010, two years after winning his record privacy payout, Mr Mosley began to investigate phone hacking with the help of a secret source, Mr X, who had information about the files kept by the NOTW 's private detective, Glenn Mulcaire – who was jailed in 2007 for hacking the voicemails of royal aides.
In late 2010, Mr Mosley began bankrolling civil cases being brought by phone-hacking victims against News International, and he also funded a judicial review against Scotland Yard's handling of the case.
The trained barrister and motor racing executive partly blames NI for the death of his son, Alexander, in 2009 from cocaine intoxication. Speaking of his exposure by the NOTW for taking part in a sado-masochistic session a year earlier, Mr Mosley said: "Was it the last straw? It could well have been.
"He was brilliantly clever – much cleverer than me. He had a Phd in maths and went into economics. But he suffered from depression and a large number of doctors could not sort it out – but illegal drugs worked.
"I think in the end he had got on top of it [drug addiction] but he found the whole business unbearable – and I can understand that. Sons may not get on with their fathers, but they tend to respect them and if a father appears in some significantly undignified position that can be devastating."
Mr Mosley, who is a former president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, said: "They [the Murdochs] simply don't care as long as they can sell a few newspapers."
He believes the Murdochs and their newspapers have suborned Parliament. "If I'd been a senior politician, they would never have published that story," he said. "They would have come to me with some of the pictures and said: 'You know, we've been given this story, but, you know, don't worry Max, we're not going to publish it' – but leaving, of course, hanging in the air what would happen if you did anything to annoy them."
He believes this is what happened to several politicians. "That's exactly what I think has gone on and I believe they have done this to a number of people, some of them on the record. Tom [Watson] is on the record and there is a suggestion that they've done it to senior members of the police force. If it's true, it needs to brought out into the open with as many examples as possible so that one can see this has gone on," he said.
"I really believe that they ran their business rather like the East German government, or the Stasi, except that it wasn't the government it was the Murdoch organisation," he added.
"That sinister way of the Stasi (secret police) – that they would let you know things about you that you rather were not made public – I think it's exactly the same technique. I think that if we knew everything we might be quite surprised how – and for what reason – people were being kept under control."