Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre defended Jan Moir at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday when questions turned to her 2009 column on Stephen Gately’s death.

Dacre said it “could have benefited from a little judicious sub-editing” but added he had been at the opera for his wife’s birthday the evening the column was filed.

He added that he would “die in a ditch to defend a columnist’s right to have her views. There isn’t a homophobic bone in Jan Moir’s body”.

More than 20,000 people wrote to the Press Complaints Commission after Moir’s piece, which won her the Stonwall Bigot of the Year Award.

The column, which was described by Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill as a “spasm of hatred”, followed the untimely death of Stephen Gately in Mallorca in October 2009.

It was originally titled “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death” but appeared in print as “A strange, lonely and troubling death”.

Moir wrote: “Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.

“And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.”

She also drew comparisons between Gately and Kevin McGee, the former civil partner of Matt Lucas, despite Gately dying of natural causes and McGee committing suicide after months of depression and addiction.

She wrote: “Another real sadness about Gately’s death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships. Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

“Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened. It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.”

The PCC ultimately rejected complains over Moir’s column saying that although it could “understand how the column had generated wide anger”, it did not police matters of offence and decency.

It said: “The commission considered that it should be slow to prevent columnists from expressing their views, however controversial they might be.

“The price of freedom of expression is that often commentators and columnists say things with which other people may not agree, may find offensive or may consider to be inappropriate.”

PCC director Stephen Abell said the case had been “difficult but important”.

He added that the PCC recognised the “flaws” in the article but ruled it “would not be proportionate to rule against the columnist’s right to offer freely-expressed views about something that was the focus of public attention”.

In a column later the same month, she wrote: “I am not – unlike those close to Stephen Gately – mourning for the loss of a much-loved partner, son, family member and close friend. To them, I would like to say sorry if I have caused distress by the insensitive timing of the column, published so close to the funeral.”