Judge explains publicity gag behind celeb blackmail case

A married TV star was granted a gagging injunction against his ex-wife because she was blackmailing him, and was given anonymity, with the legal proceedings being heard in private.

Publicity about the hearings would have defeated the purpose of the action, a High Court judge explained yesterday.

Mr Justice Tugendhat was giving his reasons for making the gagging order and ordering anonymity for the parties in the case of AMM v HXW, the latest in a series of such cases in which the protagonists are identified by random selections of letters.

The judge said the celebrity initially applied for an order, which was granted, on 21 September, when Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart set a return date – the date on which the case would return to court – for Monday this week.

He also ordered anonymity for the parties, an order continued by Mr Justice Tugendhat at Monday’s hearing.

The order was intended to stop the celebrity’s ex-wife from publicising a number of claims about the couple’s private life when they were married.

The ex-wife was also alleging that she and the celebrity, who is now re-married, had had an affair after his remarriage.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said the ex-wife had not taken the opportunity to offer any evidence or argument, or to contest the order he had made.

The judge said that on 30 September the Daily Mail published an article headlined “TV celebrity wins court order gagging his ex-wife”, adding that “the fact that that information has been published … limited the options available to the court as to the form of the order that was to be made on October 4”.

He went on: “It is correct that the claimant is a married TV star and that the defendant is his ex-wife.

“It is also correct that the defendant has claimed that she and he had a sexual affair after the claimant remarried. But the claimant in his witness statement denies that allegation.

“And the defendant has not gone so far as to put her claim that there was such a relationship into an affidavit or witness statement submitted to the court. She has only made that claim by other means which are less formal.”

The judge said the claimant had to persuade the court that an injunction ought properly to be granted, and went on: “There is credible and uncontradicted evidence from the claimant that the defendant has threatened to disclose information about his private life, in particular about his sexual life, which the public has no right to know, and which the defendant has no right to publish or disclose.”

Injunctions prohibiting disclosure of information about a marriage and sexual relationships have been granted by the courts since the case of Argyll v Argyll in 1967, and had become more frequent in recent years.

There was credible and uncontradicted evidence that publication of such information by the ex-wife would be highly damaging to the claimant’s private life and to that of others whose private lives would be affected, and damages would not be an adequate remedy.

The judge said that when a claimant alleged he was being blackmailed, the court could face limited choices. One was to refuse an anonymity order, in which case, if the blackmailer’s threat was to be thwarted, the court would restrict publication of the information which was the subject matter of the action.

The alternative was for the court to grant the anonymity order, in which case it could permit publication of some of the facts about the action, including the blackmail allegation, he said, adding: “If the court adopts that course, then the anonymity order should suffice to prevent publication of the fact that it is the applicant who has been blackmailed.”

But in this case, the Daily Mail article of 30 September disclosed some of the important items of information which were the subject of the action – and if the court was to prevent the claimant being identified, the only available alternative now was to make the anonymity order.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said the need to have regard to the claimant’s privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and to promote the public interest in preventing and punishing blackmail were both factors weighing strongly in favour of making an anonymity order.

“There is a strong case that the defendant has no right to publish the information which she seeks to publish about her relationship with her former husband.”

On this view her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the convention were not strong, he said, adding: “And as an alleged blackmailer, her Article 10 rights are much weaker.”

The judge said the Daily Mail article also illustrated what Mrs Justice Sharp described in a recent similar case as the increased risk of “jigsaw identification” of a claimant by the publication of “snippets” of identifying information.

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