David Leigh (journalist)

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David Leigh
Born1946 (age 73–74)
EducationNottingham High School, King's College, Cambridge
OccupationInvestigative journalist, assistant editor
Years active1970 – present
TitleThe Guardian's former Investigations editor

David Leigh (born 1946) is a British journalist and writer who was the investigations editor of The Guardian and is the author of Investigative Journalism: a survival guide.[1] He officially retired in April 2013,[2] although Leigh continued his association with the newspaper.[3]


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.[4]

From 1980 to 1989, he was chief investigative reporter at The Observer.[5] 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.[4]

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.[6] In 2006, Leigh became the Anthony Sampson Professor of Reporting in the Journalism department at City University London.[7] His wife's sister married Alan Rusbridger, who later became editor of The Guardian.[8]


In 2010 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."[9] Leigh co-wrote WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy (Guardian Books, 2011), written with Luke Harding. The book was made into a 2014 Hollywood movie, The Fifth Estate.[10] Assange's supporters complained that he and Wikileaks were not given any money for it.[11]

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."[12] In response, Assange said: "Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase."[13]

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."[14] Melman characterised this as a "clumsy smear" attempt.[15]


In 1979, Leigh won a British Press Awards special award for exposing jury-vetting, while 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.[16] 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 Leigh and five other journalists the Daniel Pearl Award for their investigation of toxic waste dumping by oil traders Trafigura.[17] 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.[18]

In February 2013, the Press Gazette listed him as third in their list of the top 10 investigative journalists.[19]


  • David Leigh, The Frontiers of Secrecy: Closed Government in Britain, Praeger (30 June 1980), ISBN 978-0-313-27093-2
  • David Leigh, High Time: The Life and Times of Howard Marks, William Heineman Ltd (8 October 1984), ISBN 978-0-434-41339-3; HarperCollins (1988), ISBN 978-0-04-364023-4
  • David Leigh, The Wilson Plot: The Intelligence Services and the Discrediting of a Prime Minister, Pantheon Books (1988), ISBN 978-0-394-57241-3; Arrow Books (1 June 1989), ISBN 978-0-7493-0067-8
  • David Leigh, Betrayed: Trial of Matrix Churchill, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (4 February 1993), ISBN 978-0-7475-1552-4
  • David Leigh, Luke Harding and David Pallister, The Liar: Fall of Jonathan Aitken, Penguin Books (1997)
  • David Leigh and Ed Vulliamy, Sleaze: The Corruption of Parliament, Fourth Estate (17 March 1997), ISBN 978-1-85702-694-8
  • David Leigh and Luke Harding, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, Guardian Books (1 February 2011), ISBN 978-0-85265-239-8
  • David Leigh, Investigative Journalism: a survival guide, Palgrave Macmillan (9 September 2019), ISBN 978-3-030-16751-6


  1. ^ Palgrave Macmillan 2019 ISBN 978-3-030-16751-6
  2. ^ William Turvill "Investigative journalist David Leigh retires after 30 years with The Guardian", Press Gazette, 15 April 2013
  3. ^ Roy Greenslade "David Leigh, doyen of investigative journalists, steps down", guardian.co.uk (Greenslade blog), 17 April 2013
  4. ^ a b "David Leigh, Author at International Consortium of Investigative Journalists". International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
  5. ^ Stewart, Angus (1983). Contemporary Britain. Routledge. p. viii. ISBN 0-7100-9406-X. David Leigh has been chief investigative reporter, the Observer, since 1980
  6. ^ "BAE Systems to pay $79m fine for breach of US military export rules". The Guardian. 17 May 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  7. ^ "David Leigh to become Britain's first professor of reporting". Citynews. 27 September 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2006.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Lord Mackie of Benshie - obituary". 17 February 2015 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  9. ^ Tiku, Nitasha "Julian Assange Picks a Media Fight With the Guardian", New York Magazine, 21 December 2010.
  10. ^ "The Fifth Estate". 18 October 2013 – via www.imdb.com.
  11. ^ "The Siege of Julian Assange is a Farce - A Special Investigation".
  12. ^ Ben Quinn, "Julian Assange 'Jewish conspiracy' comments spark row", The Guardian, 1 March 2011.
  13. ^ "British magazine: Assange says Jewish conspiracy trying to discredit WikiLeaks", Haaretz, 2 March 2011.
  14. ^ Anshel Pfeffer and Ben-Tovim, Israel, Kurdish fighters destroyed Iran nuclear facility, email released by WikiLeaks claims, Haaretz, 27 February 2012.
  15. ^ "Jewish news and politics - Assanges-Chutzpah". Tabletmag.com. 28 February 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "BBC - August anniversaries - History of the BBC". www.bbc.co.uk.
  17. ^ "ICIJ Names Winners of 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting" Archived 7 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine, ICIJ, 24 April 2010
  18. ^ "Jonathan Calvert of Sunday Times is Journalist of the Year: British Journalism Awards full list of winners – Press Gazette". www.pressgazette.co.uk.
  19. ^ "Press Gazette's top ten investigative journalists: 'Brave and unstoppable' Nick Davies tops the list". PressGazette. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.

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