The Mirror will meet supermodel Naomi Campbell head-on in a High Court battle on 11 February over intrusion into her privacy. Editor Piers Morgan is prepared for the first time to give evidence in court to make the issue a test case.
"In my view, this could well turn out to be the most explosive celebrity-newspaper encounter we have seen in a court. We intend to be just as vigorous against Miss Campbell as she intends to be against us," he told Press Gazette.
Campbell decided to sue The Mirror for intrusion of privacy and breach of confidence after it published a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting last February, in what the paper described as "a courageous bid to beat her addiction to drink and drugs".
The report said the model had been having regular counselling sessions for three months, often attending twice a day.
A source close to Campbell was quoted as saying: "She wants to clean up her life for good. She went into modelling when she was very young and it is easy to be led astray. Drink and drugs are unfortunately widely available in the fashion world. But Naomi has realised she has a problem and has bravely vowed to do something about it."
The NA meeting was in London’s Kings Road and The Mirror, which says it had the co-operation of Campbell’s Elite model agency on the story, will argue that was not the most discreet of venues if the famous model was trying to preserve her anonymity.
The paper will argue it could simply have exposed Campbell as a drug user in a traditional, censorious tabloid way but it chose to treat the story sympathetically. If the court finds for Campbell, The Mirror would see it as an encouragement for the media to take the direct-exposure line in future, with no sense of compassion.
It also fears that a decision for Campbell will allow celebrities to hide behind a cloak of anonymity. It will argue it would be unrealistic to believe that anyone attending the NA meeting with Campbell would not have known she was the supermodel. Its investigations have shown they all knew exactly who she was.
The Mirror will claim Campbell has spoken publicly about drugs, saying she has never taken them. It will argue that if a person is going to NA, it means he or she has been breaking the law.
It might be that the judge will come down on Campbell’s side and take the view that all those attending NA meetings should have their privacy protected.
"I want to make it clear we are not going into this fight to expose the ordinary man in the street," Morgan said. "But we believe that, where a famous supermodel has clearly been misleading the public on the issue of drugs, the last thing they should do by response is to seek some compensation through the courts for invasion of privacy and breach of confidence."
The Mirror will also contest the claim that anyone seeking therapy for illegal drug use at NA is a medical patient and should be treated the same as those attending meetings for alcoholics or bulimics.
If Campbell wins, The Mirror is ready to take the action to the Court of Appeal and to the European Court of Human Rights.
By Jean Morgan