Spelmans drop privacy bid over Star steroids story

The family of Cabinet minister Caroline Spelman decided not to appeal against a judge’s refusal to continue a privacy injunction to protect their teenage rugby-playing son Jonathan – allowing the Daily Star Sunday and other media to reveal that he had taken banned susbtances to aid his recovery from injury.

Daily Star Sunday editor Gareth Morgan said the original ruling was a victory for press freedom and said that Spelman family and sought to “silence the press using their wealth and privilege”.

Mrs Spelman and her husband, Mark, said in a joint statement that Jonathan, a former England under-16 rugby player, took the drugs, reported to be steroids, in an attempt to speed up his recovery from a serious injury.

The drugs are not illegal.

The couple said: “Our son, who was then aged 16, was injured in September 2011 and took some widely available drugs in order to aid his recovery. The substances are, however, banned under anti-doping rules.

“He has made a voluntary statement to the RFU and is now subject to their disciplinary process, which is still ongoing.

“Our son knows that taking a banned substance can never, ever be right and he is deeply sorry for the mistakes he has made and is determined to learn from them.

“We will do everything we can to support him as he faces the consequences of his actions. He is still very young and we hope he can be given space to do that.”

Jonathan went on the internet to find medication after suffering a serious leg injury he feared would end his rugby playing career.

The 17-year-old was forced to miss out on a trial with England after doctors told him his recovery could take nine months.

He was originally granted the order preventing the publication of the revelations in the Daily Star Sunday by Mr Justice Lindblom at a private hearing last month.

The judge said the information, which was leaked to the newspaper, attracted a reasonable expectation of privacy and publication would not advance the public interest.

But on 24 February, Mr Justice Tugendhat concluded that it was “not necessary or proportionate” to continue the injunction.

The order remained in place until 4pm on Friday to give the 17-year-old, who was suing through his parents, the opportunity to ask the Court of Appeal for permission to challenge the judge’s decision.

The action left the Spelman family with legal costs of at least £60,994.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Tugendhat had said his decision not to continue the injunction until any trial – which would not have been before May – was not a “licence” to the Express Newspapers group or anyone else to publish whatever they chose, or indeed anything at all.

Gareth Morgan, Daily Star Sunday editor, said the newspaper was “bitterly disappointed” the Spelman family had pursued an injunction.

He said: “The Daily Star Sunday is delighted that common sense has prevailed and this story can now be reported.

“The use of banned substances by an elite athlete is a matter that is in the public interest and an injunction to hush up the facts should never have been sought.

“We remain bitterly disappointed that the Spelman family went down this route and attempted to silence the press using their wealth and influence, an option unavailable to ordinary members of the public.

“Again, we thank Mr Justice Tugendhat for the judgment he handed down last week, a judgment which remains a great victory for press freedom.”

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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