Married sportsman granted injunction to prevent newspaper publishing story about affair

A “prominent” professional sportsman has been granted an injunction preventing a newspaper publishing a “kiss and tell” story about a sexual relationship he had with another woman before he was married.

A judge at the High Court in London granted the application by the un-named married couple to prevent The Sun from running an article based on an account given by the woman, referred to as “X”.

Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing considered that the grant of order restraining publication for “a short period” was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

The court heard that that the man “A1”, a “prominent and successful professional sportsman” who had from time to time held “positions of responsibility” in his sport and “appears in advertisements for some products”, was involved “some years ago” in a sexual relationship with a woman referred to as “X” which lasted “a few months”.

He was seeking to restrain the national newspaper from publishing a story, to be recounted by X, about the relationship between them.

A1 is now married to “A2” but at the time of the affair he was not married to A2, although she had been his girlfriend for a while.

The judge explained: “X says, and this has not been specifically denied by A1, that they met at times when he should have been preparing for sports events. X now wishes to give her account in order to ‘put the record straight’.”

Mrs Justice Laing said the was one in which there was a conflict between rights conferred by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and set out in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998, namely the article 8 rights to respect for the private and family lives of the couple and the article 10 rights to freedom of expression of X and the respondents “R”, News Group Newspapers.

The judge said evidence from the newspaper described the proposed content of the article, adding: “It is considerably more detailed and concrete than what has been published so far.”

Publication “will no doubt cause embarrassment to A1 and A2”.

The newspaper argued that A1 could not have had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” as X was “not a private person”.

The submission was based on the fact that she had “many affairs” and had chosen to display in public aspects of her life which others might regard as normally private.

They adduced evidence to show that X was a “shallow, one-dimensional, cut-out character who broadcasts, and is known to broadcast, her entire private life, so that anyone embarking on a relationship with her knowingly takes the risk that it will be made public”.

The newspaper also argued that whether he wanted it or not, A1’s position of responsibility in his sport and the fact that he was a prominent sportsman made him into a “role model” who could therefore expect to have his conduct, on and off the sports field, to be examined minutely and publicly.

But the judge concluded that the interference with the article 8 rights of A1 and A2 were not justified.

In a written judgment, Mrs Justice Laing said: “The public interest arguments circled round the suggestion that this story shows that A1, who is, and should act as, a role model is, in reality, a hypocrite. First, it is said that there is a public interest in publishing the story because A1’s conduct of the relationship meant that he broke rules on a few occasions in having a woman with him when he was staying at a hotel. He denies that his conduct led to the breach of any rules.

But even if I assume that he did break any rules, I do not see that there is any public interest in revealing this now, some years after the event. Nor do I consider that the mere fact he broke rules in the past shows that he, is or should be publicly exposed as, a hypocrite.

“Second, R argues that, in having the relationship, A1 deceived both A2, and his then manager. A1 does not deny these deceits. A2 now knows the truth. His deceit of A2 is a private matter between them.

“I can see no public interest in the publication of the fact that some years ago, A1 deceived his then team manager in the way that X said he did. Nor do I consider that an isolated past deception of a former team manager means that A1 is a hypocrite, or that there is a public interest in exposing him as one.

“R’s third argument is that A1’s success as a sportsman has given him the opportunity to earn money by appearing in advertisements. It is said that this is built on his image as a ‘clean-living family man’. X’s story is a valuable antidote to this false impression, it is said.

“I reject the strained submission that any of the material relied on in this context shows that A1 has misled the public by creating and projecting a false image of himself. There is nothing misleading or untruthful, in my judgment, about any of this material.”

The order was made on Saturday 1 August following an urgent telephone application made by lawyers on behalf of the man and his wife, who were also granted anonymity.

Mrs Justice Laing said she was granting the injunction for a “short period only”, pending a further and more detailed hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Wednesday 5 August, but that hearing before Mr Justice Dingemans did not take place.

In a short judgment, Mr Justice Dingemans said: “In the event the parties agreed orders containing undertakings and directions for trial, which meant that the hearing before me did not go ahead.

“This short judgment records that fact by way of open judgment, and this is because the orders provided for a derogation from the principle of open justice in that the order for anonymity of the claimants made by Laing J was continued.”

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