Copyright twist in Cole 'gay orgy' libel row

The Ashley Cole "gay orgy" libel saga took a new twist this week as it emerged that his lawyers would not be suing the internet site that arguably did most to bring the legal action about.

And as dance music DJ Masterstepz also came forward with a libel case against The Sun and News of the World over stories of a "bisexual threesome".

involving famous footballers and a musician, Press Gazette has learnt that he is also considering action for breach of copyright over a heavily doctored image that appeared in the NoW.

The NoW first published claims of a "homosexual orgy" involving two Premiership footballers and a "pal well known in the music industry" on 12 February with no other information that could identify them. The story revealed that a mobile phone set on vibrate was involved.

On Thursday, 16 February, The Sun published a picture story headlined "Ashley's got a good taste in rings"

about the £50,000 engagement ring he bought for his fiancée Cheryl Tweedy.

The story also said it "looked like he was waiting for a ring as he held his phone.

It must have been set to vibrate".

On 19 February, the NoW published details of more "perverted" orgies along with a heavily obscured photo of "the DJ" and "player B". It is this photo which is thought to have prompted the libel writs after website Pink News tracked down what it believed was the original, unobscured, photo and linked Cole and DJ Masterstepz, real name Ian Thompson.

The "original" of this photo is understood to be owned by Masterstepz and his lawyers are currently mulling over whether to include a copyright claim in this increasingly complex legal dispute.

Pink News editor Benjamin Cohen told Press Gazette that he started looking for the original of the News of the World photo after receiving a tip-off from a Fleet Street contact that the story related to Ashley Cole. "We did a Google image search for the photo, we had a feeling that it wasn't a News of the World picture," said Cohen.

What appeared to be the original was found on the website of Choice FM, where Masterstepz is a DJ. Pink News published the "original" and the NoW picture under the headline "Internet rumours name bisexual footballer".

Since the story appeared, on 20 February, it has had more than 250,000 page views — compared with an average of 10,000 for a Pink News story.

Cohen said he understood his website was not being sued over the story, even though without it the libel actions against The Sun and News of the World might not have been lodged.

Cohen said: "We didn't name Ashley Cole as the person the News of the World was exposing — we just said this is a photo of Ashley Cole and we believe the two photos are the same."

Cole's lawyer Graham Shear has filed writs against the NoW and The Sun for libel, harassment and "false privacy".

This last action is for breach of privacy, notwithstanding the fact that Cole says the allegations are untrue.

In a statement, Shear said it was "disgraceful"

that his client should face such "insinuation and innuendo"

before his forthcoming marriage to Girls Aloud singer Tweedy.

Shear said the Arsenal defender, 25, was trying to concentrate on preparation for the World Cup and condemned "false and offensive articles designed to tell readers that Ashley had behaved in what the News of the World described as a ‘perverted' way with other professional footballers.

"The newspapers knew there was no basis to name Ashley, but arranged the articles and pictures in such a way that readers would identify him.

"There is no truth whatsoever in these allegations. Ashley Cole will not tolerate this kind of cowardly journalism or let it go unchallenged."

Masterstepz has instructed David Price Solicitors to sue The Sun and News of the World on a no win, no fee basis over the stories.

His solicitors said: "Although Masterstepz was not named in the articles, the manner of publication has led to his being identified as the DJ alleged to have been involved. The articles made use of a photograph of Masterstepz with footballer Ashley Cole, taken from the Choice FM radio station website, and crudely pixillated in an attempt to conceal their identities."

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