Page last updated at 09:32 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 10:32 UK

Max Mosley: An extraordinary case

By Adam Parsons
Sports Correspondent, BBC News

Max Mosley
Max Mosley leaving the High Court in London after refuting the allegations

You would have imagined that just about everything there was to know about Max Mosley had already filtered into the public domain.

The son of the notorious British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, is also the head of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the governing body of world motorsport.

His has hardly been a low-key life, but very few knew about his most personal secret.

For more than 40 years, as it emerged in his successful High Court case, Mr Mosley has been taking part in sadomasochistic sex.

His wife of 48 years, Jean, knew nothing about his habits and Mr Mosley said the effect of discovering the details had been "totally devastating" for her.

Not least, one assumes, because they came not from a heartfelt admission from a penitent husband, but were instead emblazoned over the front page of The News of the World.

And if that’s all the paper had accused him of, this court case might never have happened.

But instead, it made another accusation, one that propelled the story to a whole new dimension.

No confidence vote

The Sunday tabloid claimed this was not merely an orgy - it was a "Sick Nazi Orgy".

At first, the evidence looked damning.

There were pictures of prostitutes dressed in striped prison outfits, details of orders being barked in German, and images of Mr Mosley being subjected to what the paper described as a "SS-style medical examination".

Yet immediately, Mr Mosley denied vehemently any suggestion of a Nazi connotation to what he had done.

The orgy he admitted but he rejected the Nazi allegation with a fierce determination.

He survived a vote of no confidence from the membership of the FIA, the world motoring body of which he is president.

On the one hand, you could ascribe his victory there to the backing of long-standing friends and grateful supporters.

Yet amid it all was a piece of evidence that set a trend - a report from highly-respected barrister Anthony Scrivener that was presented to the FIA membership.

Having trawled through photos and video taken by the News of the World’s paid informant - the now infamous Woman E - he found no evidence of Nazi activity.

Court confrontation

And so it was that Mr Mosley ended up in Court 13, watched by a public gallery that quickly swelled.

He was the first witness, and gave a performance that bristled with self-righteousness and self-confidence.

Max Mosley's father Sir Oswald
Max Mosley's father Sir Oswald led the British fascists before WWII

He berated Mark Warby QC, representing the News of the World, for asking "pointless" questions.

Both men accused the other of "arrogance" and when Mr Warby accused Mr Mosley of deceit, there came a furious response.

Mr Mosley, himself a trained barrister, seethed: "How dare you accuse me of lying".

A little later, when the FIA President had, once more, attempted to correct the manner of the barrister cross-examining him, Mr Warby bit his lip and looked at the ceiling, like a frustrated parent trying to deal with a truculent child.

Yet this was Mr Mosley’s tactic, and it worked.

His admissions, when they came, were often disarmingly candid, as were those of the four women who followed him into the witness box.

Public interest

They talked of sadomasochism as “the scene”, and sprinkled their submissions with references to S&M and CP (that’s corporal punishment, for the uninitiated).

Mr Mosley, we discovered, had been spanked no fewer than 88 times during one session, and had subsequently thought that a little tame.

Through it all, Mr Justice Eady sat impassively, only interjecting occasionally to query a point of law.

The News of the World, in the shape of editor Colin Myler and chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, offered their own testimony, based largely around the contention that the Nazi theme was overt, and the story had been published in the public interest.

Their star witness was to have been Woman E, the mainstay of the Nazi allegations.

But she pulled out at the last moment, a final dramatic twist in a spellbinding legal case.

Where this all leaves Mr Mosley’s professional career is something of a moot point.

There remain many within motorsport who think his personal life is anything but, and that worldwide headlines about his sexual exploits have brought shame upon the sport.

Yet there are others who have, perhaps grudgingly, begun to soften a little.

Had Mr Mosley been exposed as a card-carrying Nazi sympathiser, then his position would have been untenable.

Instead he has been exposed as a man with curious sexual tastes, but ones he has kept under wraps for more than four decades.

His private life may be remarkably colourful, but he had previously done a good job of keeping it private.

As for the ramifications on the British media, they will be digested and analysed for days and weeks to come.

What began as a sex scandal has proliferated into politics, theatre and now media law.

This has been, truly, an extraordinary case.


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