Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan is squaring up for a battle with the Press Complaints Commission after paying convicted killer Tony Martin around £125,000 for his story.
The Editors’ Code of Practice expressly forbids paying criminals for their stories unless it can be proved to be in the public interest. Morgan believes he can make such a case.
He said: “We, like most people, do not condone the fact that Tony Martin killed somebody. But we have enormous sympathy for a man who was repeatedly burgled in his own home and eventually felt compelled to take drastic action to defend himself and his property.
“The way the British justice system has treated Mr Martin is frankly appalling. We believe that his case raises a number of significant public interest issues relating to crime in this country, and in particular the way that victims now appear to receive fewer rights than the criminals who prey on them.”
Morgan said there was a bidding war between the Mail, Sun, News of the World and Express Newspapers in the build-up to Martin’s release, with rumoured offers of up to £500,000 for his story.
However, he said, Martin chose to behave “honourably” and stick to an earlier deal he had agreed with the Mirror, even though it was for less money.
He said: “We spent two and a half months working on Tony Martin through Malcolm Starr – we kept at it. By the time other papers woke up to the fact we had the deal, it was in the bag.
“We said to him that we would faithfully represent his views and wouldn’t spice it up. He could say what he wanted how he wanted to say it.”
The Sun had particular cause to regret not getting the Martin interview after it raised £100,000 for his legal fund through a reader appeal. The burglar who Martin wounded, Brendon Fearon, has indicated that he plans to sue for damages.
The PCC has already announced that it will be launching an inquiry into the Mirror’s payment to Martin.
A spokesman said: “It is our normal policy to raise a complaint where clear issues arise under the provisions of the code about criminal payments.
We will be writing to the newspaper for its public interest defence.”
On Monday and Tuesday, the PCC took a number of calls from readers in support of the Mirror’s deal with Martin – an unprecedented occurrence.
Previous PCC adjudications have indicated that for the public interest defence to work, the Mirror interviews may need to uncover new facts about the case.
The Mirror may also be asked to prove that Martin could not have been persuaded to talk without payment being made.
On that point, Morgan said: “Why should Tony Martin tell his story for nothing? The least that we can do, since we will be selling a lot of papers, is give him some form of compensation.”
He added: “He is the victim here, not the criminal.”
By Dominic Ponsford