A High Court judge has backed the Press Complaints Commission’s ruling that an earlier court was wrong to ban most of the media from publishing pictures of surviving Siamese twin Gracie Attard. But his decision in favour of the Sunday People still means the rest of the press cannot use photographs of her.
People editor Neil Wallis claimed a major victory for the press when his paper was able to run new pictures of Gracie at home in Gozo after Mr Justice Connell overturned an injunction made in June.
Under the injunction, media other than those who did a joint £350,000 exclusive deal for the story — The Mail on Sunday, the News of the World, Now magazine and Granada’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald -were prevented from using photographs of Gracie.
The People had been told by the Attards’ solicitors that it could only run the pictures if they paid £20,000 for an interview with the family.
The People said "no" and went to the court. Mr Justice Connell granted their application and refused the Attards leave to appeal.
But the outcome, while a bonus for the People, has created "legal madness", according to Wallis, because the rest of the press is still subject to the same injunction, in particular the Manchester Evening News. Its use of shots taken of Gracie in June prompted the Attards to seek the original injunction .
Mr Justice Bennett imposed the ban on the basis that the MEN pictures were an intrusion into the Attards’ privacy and that Gracie might lose out financially if he did not grant their application.
Wallis contends that ruling was hugely controversial. "Most people would say that was outrageous – that a court could decide issues of freedom of the press, making its own decision about the financial interests of one party or another," he said.
Since then the PCC, of which Wallis is a member, has made a benchmark adjudication in opposition to the court by throwing out the Attards’ complaints against the MEN.
PCC director Guy Black said: "This is a very significant ruling which throws into sharp focus a number of issues relating to the Human Rights Act and the interpretation of the Editors’ Code by courts. We are very pleased the injunction has been altered on the basis of the PCC ruling."
But Wallis added: "The injunction is still in place. It is absolute legal madness because anyone else who takes pictures of Gracie will have to go back to the courts, unless someone takes it upon themselves to mount the legal costs for a full challenge."
lLast weekend, the People apologised to Radio 1 breakfast show presenter Sara Cox for publishing nude photographs of her in a private area of her hotel in the Seychelles while on honeymoon. Cox complained to the PCC. Wallis said: "If you are in our business, which is not an exact science, occasionally you have conflicts. It is a classic case of the proof of the pudding of the PCC – we all got together and it was resolved amicably."
By Jean Morgan