LONDON " After the sting of scandal, Max Mosley can feel the balm of victory.
A British judge ruled Thursday that a tabloid newspaper breached the motorsport chief's privacy with a story claiming that a sadomasochistic orgy he took part in had a Nazi theme. The News of the World faces a legal bill of almost 1 million pounds ($2 million) after the judge ordered it to pay damages and Mosley's legal costs, as well as it's own.
Mosley said the ruling proves that his now-famous interest in sadomasochism is a purely private matter. But some legal experts doubt the financial blow to the newspaper will be large enough to deter the prying of Britain's scandal-hungry tabloid press.
High Court judge David Eady ruled that Mosley, president of the governing body that oversees Formula One racing, "had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities (albeit unconventional) carried on between consenting adults on private property."
The judge said he had found no evidence that Mosley's role-playing encounter with five women "was intended to be an enactment of Nazi behavior or adoption of any of its attitudes."
"There was bondage, beating and domination, which seem to be typical of S&M behavior," Eady said.
Mosley's fondness for caning and spanking has become public knowledge since the News of the World ran a story in March giving details of his encounters with five dominatrices in a basement flat in London.
Video footage, secretly filmed by one of the women, has been viewed millions of times on the Internet, and extracts were played during Mosley's weeklong court hearing against the newspaper this month.
The newspaper claimed one session in March had a Nazi theme " an especially explosive allegation because Mosley is the son of the late Oswald Mosley, Britain's leading fascist politician in the 1930s and a friend of Adolf Hitler.
Some of the participants wore striped prison-style uniforms and one dominatrix wore a German Luftwaffe jacket.
Mosley told the court he had an interest in sadomasochism going back 45 years, but said he found the idea of Nazi sex fantasies abhorrent. He said he and the women acted out a German prison scenario, with no Nazi overtones.
Mosley, 68, said the ruling exposed "the Nazi lie upon which the News of the World sought to justify their disgraceful intrusion into my private life."
"I hope my case will help deter newspapers in the U.K. from pursuing this type of invasive and salacious journalism," he said.
Some lawyers considered that unlikely, even though the News of the World now faces a hefty bill. Mosley's legal costs are estimated at about 450,000 pounds ($900,000), the paper's own legal costs at 400,000 pounds ($800,000) and it also must pay Mosley 60,000 pounds ($120,000) in damages.
The payout is large for a British privacy lawsuit. But the judge did not award the "punitive and exemplary" damages Mosley had sought to deter other newspapers from running similar stories.
Eady made a point of saying there was nothing to suggest a "landmark" in his ruling.
"I don't think this is enough to have a chilling effect on the media," said Caroline Kean, a partner at media-law specialists Wiggin. "Sixty thousand pounds is nothing like the amount that could be awarded, and not approaching the top level of libel damages."
Britain has no formal privacy law, but it is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to respect for privacy and family life. Celebrities have increasingly used this clause to fight media exposes.
Kean said the Mosley ruling underscored the fact "that your sex life is private."
Mosley told the court his wife of 48 years had not known about his S&M activities and said the story had devastated his family.
It also brought calls for him to quit as president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile. Despite the pressure, he won a confidence vote last month allowing him to stay until his fourth term ends in October 2009.
News of the World editor Colin Myler said the paper's story had been "legitimate and lawful" because Mosley was a public figure in a position of authority. He said the judge's ruling had harmed press freedom.
"It is not for the rich and the famous, the powerful and the influential, to dictate the news agenda, just because they have the money and the means to gag a free press," Myler said. "That is why the News of the World will remain committed to fighting for its readers' right to know."
The judge said the newspaper's account of S&M encounters did not amount to a worthy journalistic expose.
"Although no doubt interesting to the public, was this genuinely a matter of public interest?" Eady wrote. "I rather doubt it."