Investigative journalist Phillip Knightley dies at 87

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2016 9:24 AM

LONDON (AP) — A fascination with spies and scandals, combined with deep patience and persistence, made Phillip Knightley a legend among investigative journalists.

Knightley, who has died aged 87, helped gain compensation for the victims of thalidomide through a landmark investigation for London's Sunday Times, and shone light on the murky world of Cold War espionage.

Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans called him "the gold standard of public journalism."

"Phil was spurred by injustice," Evans wrote in a tribute.

Knightley died Wednesday in London, his literary agent Rachel Calder said Friday.

Born into a working-class family in Sydney in 1929, Knightley worked for publications in Australia, Fiji and India before joining London's Sunday Times in the 1960s. Under Evans, the paper became renowned for its investigations. Knightley was a key part of the team that during the 1970s exposed the failings that led to thalidomide, a drug marketed as a remedy for morning sickness but caused major deformities in thousands of babies.

The stories, published after years of digging and court battles, helped bring millions in compensation for the affected children from the drug's British distributor, and led to tighter drug-licensing rules.

Knightley also uncovered previously secret details of the career of Kim Philby, a senior British intelligence official who was also a KGB mole. Knightley interviewed Philby in Moscow shortly before his death in 1988 — his only audience with a Western journalist since defecting in 1963.

Knightley's books include several volumes about Cold War spies and a history of war reporting, "The First Casualty."

Knightley was one of several journalists and campaigners who pledged surety money for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a fellow Australian, when he was fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning about sex-crimes allegations. Knightley forfeited 15,000 pounds (now $19,000) in 2012 when Assange jumped bail and took refuge in London's Ecuadorean embassy, where he remains.

Knightley is survived by his wife Yvonne and their three children.