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Friday, 13 January 2012

The David Beckham Scoop

ALTHOUGH sensational scoops do not mean sensational sales, there is always the exception to the rule.

The News of the World’s ‘David Beckham’s Secret Affair’ splash is one of them.

That scoop, in April 2004, put on more than 600,000 sales and it defined Andy Coulson’s editorship and won Scoop of the Year.

For that, we paid Rebecca Loos a hefty six figure sum.

My expenses alone amounted to precisely £45,285.38.

This was because the operation was carried out in such secrecy, we didn’t even want to trust any agencies with our travel itineraries in case they were leaked.

That meant I had to fork out personally for everything, including return flights to Australia and hotel rooms there for six weeks for myself and a female contact.

Then there was six weeks in Spain with Rebecca Loos. Hotel rooms for both of us for four weeks plus the hire of a secluded villa in Sotogrande for two weeks where we hid Rebecca from the world’s press who were trying to find her.

Then hire cars, meals for the girls etc. It was hellishly expensive and it all went on my Amex card.

The managing editor Stuart Kuttner, a forensic examiner of expenses, signed off every one for me.

With Stuart, trust was everything and if you lost his trust, you never got it back. Fortunately, we had a very good working relationship.

The cost of the enterprise was more than off-set by the leap in sales. And the worldwide syndication ensured we made a very healthy profit.

Under the noses of the assembled paparazzi, I spirited Rebecca away in the dead of night from her home in Madrid, kick-starting weeks of painstaking work on proving her story was true.

And no, it wasn’t phone hacking which nailed it.

I’m afraid the proof boiled down to a two word diary entry which I found in a cardboard box.

We were just about to call it a day and come home when I unearthed the crucial evidence.

Suddenly I was in a conference call with the editor Andy Coulson, his deputy Neil Wallis, legal manager Tom Crone and an outside barrister.

A few hours later, the presses began to roll.

I’m sure this is interesting to some and tiresome to others.

There is a whole chapter here if anyone is interested. Let me know if you think there is a readership.

It would also be interesting to analyse why this particular story had ingredients which sent sales soaring when other tabloid scoops we think “sensational” have no effect at all. All thoughts appreciated.


  1. PlatoJan 13, 2012 01:26 AM
    Getting under the skin of a big story like this would be great reading. Hope you pen it.

    From memory, Ms Loos had a penchant for publicity herself, which no doubt helped a great deal afterwards ;^)
  2. James DeanJan 13, 2012 03:25 AM
    Neville - can you do us a post on scoops gone wrong? E.g. where you invested a lot of time and money in something that didn't come off? Thanks
  3. AnonymousJan 14, 2012 02:40 AM
    Yes, I would be very interested in such a story.
  4. AnonymousJan 14, 2012 08:29 AM
    but its still a case of his word against hers. Loos claimed at the time that she was forced to sell her story because NOTW had gotten hold of the story and would print it with or without her. We now see that this was a lie. According to your entry above, she worked with you for months to prove that the story was "true".

    Do you think the fact that you had personally invested so much money into the story made you want the story to be true?
  5. Neville ThurlbeckJan 14, 2012 12:37 PM
    I’m on record in various interviews I’ve given over the years on TV, radio and the press that Rebecca came to help us out after the first splash story.
    Rebecca wasn’t “forced” to do anything either and she remains a dear friend of me and my family eight years later.
    I didn’t personally invest a penny in the venture. I incurred expenses while on the road during an extended period of time abroad.
    Finally, as to the “truth” of the story. The evidence satisfied a whole raft of lawyers at the News of the World and outside. And ultimately the Beckham’s lawyers, who chose not to sue us for libel.
    Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and give your opinion.
  6. K.TJan 14, 2012 03:04 PM
    "The evidence satisfied a whole raft of lawyers at the News of the World and outside. And ultimately the Beckham’s lawyers, who chose not to sue us for libel".

    Is that a statement of fact or opinion?
  7. K.TJan 15, 2012 06:17 AM
    Hiya, I submitted two comments yesterday but can only see one above. Was the first comment not approved? Interested to hear your responses to my points. Thanks
  8. Neville ThurlbeckJan 15, 2012 06:24 AM
    Can you kindly resubmit KT?
  9. K.TJan 15, 2012 07:37 AM
    Loos is on record as stating that she had no choice but to sell her story to NOTW as NOTW had the story and stated that they would have printed the story with or without her – with the obvious benefits to her if she co-operated. She may have changed her tune since.

    Of course you guys remain “dear friends”- she became an instant millionaire as a result of the allegations ….you didn’t do too badly either. Whether or not you remain friends is irrelevant as to whether or not she was telling the truth or not. It simply suggests that you believed her.
    Expenses – surely there was a lot riding on you producing something – a “splash” as you put it, given the extent of you expenses? If you failed to produce a splash, would your expenses have been paid in full?
    As to the “truth” of the allegations – in civil cases, lawyers only need to be sure that there is a 50% chance that the allegations are true (on the balance of probabilities if you like). 50% chance of truth does not equate to 100% fact.

    Presumably these lawyers will sign-off on stories which ultimately turn out to be untrue - the hideous allegations that the McCann's had killed Maddie for example. Sign-off from a lawyer is not a guarantee of accuracy.

    There are a whole raft of reasons why someone will sue or not sue- the analysis is not as straightforward as your above response infers. And I’m not sure you can state that the Beckhams’ lawyers were satisfied with the evidence and present it as a matter of fact. You would not have been party to the discussions – at best this is your opinion.

    Additionally, the Beckhams did bring legal action against NOTW in 2004 / 2005. The interim judgements are a matter of public record. NOTW were seeking disclosure of several items to help argue their case. This suggests that NOTW were not in possession of enough hard hitting evidence. Ultimately the matter was settled out of court with the settlement being subject to a confidentiality provision. It was interesting to note however, that the NOTW removed the stories from public websites. Why do this if their case was so water tight?

    I also wondered why NOTW printed a front page splash in the aftermath of the original allegations claiming that Beckham had confessed when this wasn't true.

    You should probably consult your former employers re the settlement before you say more, but my point is it is her word against his. You produced a story based on the best information you had, but that doesn’t mean that your information was 100% factual. But I respect people's right to have an opinion on issues.
    1. Neville ThurlbeckJan 15, 2012 03:47 PM
      You make some interesting points here.

      The legal action you speak of was in relation to a completely different story written by one of my colleagues. I was however dispatched by News Int to the USA and to Morocco to garner evidence to support our defence. It may make an interesting blog.

      The evidence for my story however was supported by thousands of words of incriminating texts which were handed to me by two former lovers. These were printed verbatim and never disputed.

      Thanks for your input
    2. Reply
  10. AnonymousJan 15, 2012 09:24 AM
    "Rebecca came to help us out after the first splash story"

    hahaha, out of the kindness of her heart? or did the (just under)
    £1 million have anything to do with it? Supposed "affair" with no real evidence but her word.

    Cheque book journalism is something that should be banned. See how many people are willing to make up stories for nowt (parden the pun!)
    1. Neville ThurlbeckJan 15, 2012 10:36 AM
      It wasn't £1m. It was about a tenth of that.

      The evidence was "real" enough. You don't know what it was.

      Don't get the pun, but I "parden" it anyway - along with your spelling!

      Thanks for your input
    2. Reply
  11. MirandaJan 15, 2012 04:43 PM
    I can't for the life of me imagine why this story added so much to sales. It was, after all, just another dreary, predictable, sleazy NoW tale among thousands of others. Maybe (as Richard Desmond posited at the Leveson Inquiry) there just happened to be a free CD or cheap flight to Benidorm on offer that day...

    Worth checking out, perhaps, before you slap yourself on the back too cheerily in your proposed chapter.
  12. Neville ThurlbeckJan 15, 2012 04:56 PM
    Thanks for your input Miranda. But this had no freebies. It was the story that put on the sales.
  13. LizCJan 16, 2012 10:40 AM
    There's definitely a book in your exploits Neville. From what I've read of your blog so far it would be very entertaining.
  14. LizCJan 16, 2012 11:08 AM
    There's been a lot of comment in some circles about whether the pressure put on NoTW reporters was such that they were prepared to break the law to get scoops.

    I worked with NoTW reporters / feature writers on a series of stories and charity campaigns over many years. I was regularly phoned on deadline by reporters trying to stand stories up, looking for case studies for particular angles etc and not once was I pressured into saying something I didn't want to.

    If I said someone had the wrong end of the stick and it wasn't worth pursuing, that was accepted. Every quote was also accurate.

    In the day job, I've been a journalist for nearly 40 years and at least one of the recent NoTW reporters did his work experience on my newspaper. Most of them had a good grounding in provincial media before they moved on.

    I get fed up with hearing NoTW reporters bad-mouthed in the media when the vast majority were getting good old fashioned scoops through their own talents and not illegal means.
  15. Jane GriffithsJan 16, 2012 01:03 PM
    this is cool
  16. AnonymousJan 19, 2012 09:19 AM
    If there's further evidence (from a cardboard box?), then why haven't you published it?
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