Ian Burrell: Desmond revels in his role as pantomime villain

 

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The Independent Online

After his eccentric but mesmeric performance at the Leveson inquiry, Richard Desmond might be minded to give himself a presenting role on his Channel Five network or perhaps enrol as a housemate for the next series of Celebrity Big Brother.

Unlike previous Fleet Street witnesses, Desmond was his unprocessed self. "Ethical? I don't quite know what the word means," he snapped at Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry.

The owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star ridiculed Express Newspapers' previous management (United News & Media) and celebrated his own achievements. "I think it's fantastic what we have done with the Daily Star," he said. "The readers have decided they can't get enough of it."

And during an hour on the stand, he never missed a chance to smear his rival Daily Mail, or "Daily Malicious" as he called it. When a rattled Jay addressed him erroneously as [Paul] "Dacre", the Mail's editor-in-chief, the Express boss shot back: "Desmond! Dacre's the fat butcher," drawing a laugh from the audience.

Asked how his entry into Fleet Street had been received, Desmond replied scornfully. "Did you see the cuttings? We were vilified... the only thing I wasn't accused of was murder."

This hostility led him to withdraw his papers from the Press Complaints Commission, or the "tea and biscuit brigade". He suggested a new regulatory body, the RCD (Richard Clive Desmond). That attitude will not have reassured a press industry seeking a united response to reform.

But he saved his biggest broadside for News International. "[By not dealing with hacking] these companies committed criminal acts and should be prosecuted."

The Leveson inquiry, he said, was "probably the worst thing that has ever happened to newspapers in my lifetime". But as he quipped dubious one-liners, twiddled his pen and treated his inquisitor like an errant minion, Richard Desmond did not look unhappy to be there.

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