David Leigh

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Person.png David Leigh  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(journalist, author)
David Leigh.jpg
His book revealed a Wikileaks password
Retired journalist in the Guardian.

David Leigh is a British journalist and author who was the investigations executive editor of The Guardian.

David Leigh officially retired in April 2013,[1] although he continued his association with the newspaper.[2]


Educated at Nottingham High School and King's College, Cambridge, leaving with a postgraduate degree in 1969. He is an investigative journalist who received the first of several British Press Awards in 1979 for an exposure of jury-vetting. He was a journalist for the Scotsman, The Times, and The Guardian, and a Laurence Stern fellow at the Washington Post in 1980. Between 1989 and 1996, he also worked as a reporter for Thames TV's current affairs series "This Week", and a producer/director for Granada TV's investigative series "World in Action".[3]

From 1980 to 1989, he was chief investigative reporter at The Observer.[4] His book The Wilson Plot (1988) increased public interest in alleged attempts by the British security services and others to destabilise Harold Wilson's government in the 1970s. His 1995 TV documentary for World in Action, "Jonathan of Arabia", led after a libel trial to the jailing for perjury of former Conservative defence minister Jonathan Aitken.

With his colleague Rob Evans, Leigh published a series of corruption exposures in The Guardian about international arms giant BAE Systems. After a criminal inquiry by the US Department of Justice and other international prosecutors, the company was eventually required to pay penalties totalling $529 million.[5] In 2006, Leigh became the Anthony Sampson Professor of Reporting in the Journalism department at City University London.[6] His wife's sister married Alan Rusbridger, who later became editor of The Guardian[7]


In 2010 David Leigh was a member of the team which handled the release of United States diplomatic and military documents which had been passed to WikiLeaks, and which worked closely with Julian Assange. The relationship soured after the Guardian published details of allegations of sexual misbehaviour made against Assange by two Swedish women. This caused David Leigh to tweet: "The #guardian published too many leaks for #Assange 's liking, it seems. So now he's signed up 'exclusively' with #Murdoch's Times. Gosh."[8]

In WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy (Guardian Books 2011), written with Luke Harding, Leigh mentioned the password to a set of unredacted classified US State Department cables. WikiLeaks had distributed multiple copies of encrypted files containing these cables, and others had mirrored the data with BitTorrent. Defending himself against criticism for subsequently dumping out all this data, Assange criticised Leigh and the Guardian instead, for unnecessarily disclosing the password.[9] In response The Guardian said "it's nonsense to suggest the Guardian's WikiLeaks book has compromised security in any way". According to The Guardian, WikiLeaks had indicated that the password was temporary and that WikiLeaks had seven months to take action to protect the files it had subsequently decided to post online.[10] The book was made into a 2014 Hollywood movie, "The Fifth Estate".[11] Assange's supporters complained that he and Wikileaks were not given any money for it.[12]

In 2011, after Private Eye magazine criticised an allegedly antisemitic Wikileaks associate Israel Shamir, editor Ian Hislop reported that Assange telephoned and complained of a campaign led by The Guardian to smear Wikileaks and deprive it of Jewish donations. Three people involved, including Leigh, according to Assange, were Jewish. Hislop says he pointed out that at least one of the three was not in fact Jewish and that this "Jewish conspiracy" was unconvincing. Assange eventually backed down and told Hislop to, "Forget the Jewish thing."[13] In response, Assange said, "Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase."[14]

In a further spat in 2012, Assange referred in a press release to: "an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks' contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks' U.S. diplomatic cables to Israel."[15] Melman characterised this as a "clumsy smear" attempt.[16]


In 1979, David Leigh won a British Press Awards special award for exposing jury-vetting, whilst a reporter at the Guardian. In 1985, he won "Investigative Reporter of the Year" in the Granada TV What the Papers Say awards, for exposing MI5 vetting of BBC staff.[17] In 2007, he won the Paul Foot Award, with his colleague Rob Evans, for the BAE bribery exposures. The prize was awarded annually by Private Eye and The Guardian in memory of the campaigning journalist Paul Foot. Leigh and Evans were also presented with the Granada TV What the Papers Say Judges' Award for "an outstanding piece of investigative journalism that uncovered a story of great significance". In 2010, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists gave him and five other journalists the Daniel Pearl Award for their investigation of toxic waste dumping by oil traders Trafigura.[18] In 2015, he and a Guardian team he led won "Investigation of the Year" at the British Journalism Awards for their exposure of tax-dodging at HSBC's Swiss bank.[19]

In February 2013, the Press Gazette listed him as third in their list of the top ten investigative journalists.[20]



A Document by David Leigh

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)
Document:Millbank Technical Servicesarticle8 June 2007Millbank Technical Services


Related Documents

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:George Monbiot’s excuses for not speaking out loudly in defence of Assange simply won’t washblog post6 October 2020Jonathan CookFaced with a barrage of criticism from some of his followers, George Monbiot, The Guardian’s supposedly fearless, leftwing columnist, offered up two extraordinarily feeble excuses this week for failing to provide more than cursory support for Julian Assange over the past month, as the Wikileaks founder has endured extradition hearings in a London courtroom.
Document:Julian Assange Must be Freed, Not BetrayedArticle18 February 2020John PilgerSarah Ferguson's interview made no mention of a leaked document, revealed by WikiLeaks, called 'Libya Tick Tock', prepared for Hillary Clinton, which described her as the central figure driving the destruction of the Libyan state in 2011. This resulted in 40,000 deaths, the arrival of ISIS in North Africa and the European refugee and migrant crisis.
Document:The Assange Arrest is a Warning From HistoryArticle12 April 2019John PilgerLeni Riefenstahl, close friend of Adolf Hitler, whose films helped cast the Nazi spell over Germany told me that the message in her films, the propaganda, was dependent not on “orders from above” but on what she called the “submissive void” of the public: "When people no longer ask serious questions, they are submissive and malleable. Anything can happen.”
Document:Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day 2blog post26 February 2020Craig MurrayThen, to wrap up proceedings, Baraitser dropped a massive bombshell. She stated that although Article 4.1 of the US/UK Extradition Treaty forbade political extraditions, this was only in the Treaty. That exemption does not appear in the UK Extradition Act.
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  1. William Turvill "Investigative journalist David Leigh retires after 30 years with The Guardian", Press Gazette, 15 April 2013
  2. Roy Greenslade "David Leigh, doyen of investigative journalists, steps down", guardian.co.uk (Greenslade blog), 17 April 2013
  3. https://www.icij.org/journalists/david-leigh
  4. Stewart, Angus (1983). Contemporary Britain. Routledge. p. viii. ISBN 0-7100-9406-X. "David Leigh has been chief investigative reporter, the Observer, since 1980"
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/may/17/bae-to-pay-79m-dollar-fine-to-us
  6. http://www.city.ac.uk/citynews/archive/2006/09_september/27092006_1.html
  7. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11418362/Lord-Mackie-of-Benshie-obituary.html
  8. Tiku, Nitasha "Julian Assange Picks a Media Fight With the Guardian", New York Magazine, 21 December 2010
  9. https://web.archive.org/web/20110903181457/http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0%2C1518%2C783778%2C00.html
  10. https://www.webcitation.org/64QIzbGtR?url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/01/unredacted-us-embassy-cables-online
  11. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1837703/
  12. http://commondreams.org/views/2014/11/17/siege-julian-assange-farce-special-investigation
  13. Ben Quinn "Julian Assange 'Jewish conspiracy' comments spark row", The Guardian, 1 March 2011
  14. "British magazine: Assange says Jewish conspiracy trying to discredit WikiLeaks", Haaretz, 2 March 2011
  15. Anshel Pfeffer and Ben-Tovim, "Israel, Kurdish fighters destroyed Iran nuclear facility, email released by WikiLeaks claims", Haaretz, 27 February 2012.
  16. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/92332/assanges-chutzpah/
  17. http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/anniversaries/august
  18. https://web.archive.org/web/20100907000000/http://www.publicintegrity.org/news/entry/2045/
  19. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/sunday-times-insight-editor-jonathan-calvert-named-journalist-year-british-journalism-awards-full/
  20. http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/press-gazettes-top-ten-investigative-journalists-brave-and-unstoppable-nick-davies-tops-list
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