Daily Mail in the dock

By Ian Dunt

The editor of the Daily Mail has answered a series of questions about its coverage, in a lengthy and unprecedented Leveson inquiry session.

Paul Dacre was forced to respond to concerns about the use of private investigators, homophobia, the McCann family and the newspaper's science coverage.

It was a remarkably public challenge to the editor, who is used to flattering attention at industry events and is held in high esteem at the Daily Mail offices.

At one point, the session had to be interrupted for Mr Dacre to take legal advice after he said information about people's contact details "could be obtained legally but it would take time".

Lord Justice Leveson said: "Some of these inquiries [to private investigator Steve Whittamore] could not be justified by the type of explanation you have given."

After the break Mr Dacre said that while the behaviour of private investigators could be illegal, the legality of the journalists' requests would depend on whether there was legitimate public interest in the story.

"We don't know the facts, we don't know what the journalist was asking for," he added.

Mr Dacre was also asked about a Jan Moir article on the death of gay boyband member Stephen Gately, which repeatedly described it as "unnatural".

While he accepted that the story should have used some "judicious subediting" he insisted he would "die in a ditch to defend any of my columnists' rights to say what they think".

He added that the thousands of "complaints were mostly electronic" and "a prime example of how tweetering [sic] can create a firestorm".

He added: "It should be said that very few of our readers complained about it."

The Daily Mail editor lost his temper when asked if he only pursued the Stephen Lawrence killers because he met the victim's father when he did plastering at his home.

"Are you really telling me I'd risk going to jail, I'd ruin my career, only because I knew a man many years previously had done some plastering work for me?" he responded.

"I find that insulting."

Mr Dacre was also criticised for the newspaper's science stories, particularly one article which warned of the "cancer danger of that night time trip to the toilet".

The authors of the study referenced in the article found there was no causal connection between light and cell division in the brain of mice if they had artificial light shined at them at one-hour intervals.