and gagged

                                            MoS and Guardian were hit with injunctions by former royal servant

An injunction gagging The Mail on Sunday from making royal revelations has been described by editor Peter Wright as the most wideranging he has ever come across.

Two injunctions were brought this week by lawyers acting for a former royal servant against The Mail on Sunday and The Guardian.

The MoS was due to print a 3000-word interview with a royal servant this week, but was threatened with an injunction by another former royal employee after the story was outlined to royal officials on Friday night.

After three hours of legal argument on Saturday afternoon an injunction was granted banning The MoS from publication on the grounds that the story was libellous.

The paper also received a letter from a senior royal asking it not to publish the story.

Wright said: “It’s the most wideranging injunction I’ve come across. I’ve certainly never come across a situation where the injunction has been taken out against us and neither we nor other newspapers can report who has taken the injunction out. Which appears to be the case with this injunction.”

Wright told Press Gazette that he wasn’t even able to confirm or deny that the injunction was taken out over a libel issue.

He said: “This involves matters of public interest and I think more importantly it involves matters that are known to a certain circle of people but which thanks to this injunction can’t be known to the general public. And I think that’s a worrying state of affairs.

“We’ve got a team of lawyers working on it and we will be going back to the High Court as soon as we reasonably can to challenge it.”

Libel injunctions are extremely rare and governed by the principle of prior restraint. This means that if a newspaper is planning to plead justification, that the story is true, the judge has to be satisfied that the paper has no defence.

Late on Monday night a second injunction was issued against The Guardian preventing it from naming the person who had made the original injunction against The MoS.

On Wednesday lawyers acting for The Guardian were due to fight the ruling at the High Court.

The legal drama follows weeks of speculation about the alleged contents of a tape in which former royal valet George Smith is said to claim that he saw another staff member in bed with a senior royal. The whereabouts of the tape, said to have been made by Princess Diana, are not known.

A Guardian spokesman declined to comment about the matter while the court case was ongoing.

But in a leader column on Tuesday the paper said: “Except in rare cases, privacy or blackmail for example, the identity of people seeking injunctions is a matter of public record. It is extraordinary for such a determined veil of secrecy to be pulled over proceedings.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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