Sun fails in bid to stop Elveden-related privacy actions from breath test pilot and jet arrest model

News UK has failed in a bid to get two civil legal actions arising from the Operation Elveden investigation into payments by journalists to public officials struck out.

Model Sarah Hannon and airline pilot Daniel Dufour are both suing Sun publisher News Group Newspapers (part of News UK) and the Met Police for breach of privacy over stories in The Sun.

News UK argues that if the pair have cases, it is for defamation – but that the time limit on lodging defamation claims has expired. The publisher also argues that the claims should be struck out because any privacy damages would be nominal and because neither had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the fact they were arrested.

But following a hearing on 6 May, Mr Justice Mann has now issued a judgment rejecting the application to have the claims struck out saying that all the points were arguable. This means the matter can now go forward to a full trial.

With some 20 serving and former Sun/News of the World journalists charged with crimes as a result of the Eveden probe into payments to public officials, the Dufour/Hannon case could pave the way for many more claims.

Legal claims and other fallout from the hacking scandal has already cost News UK several hundred million pounds. 

Hannon was arrested following a 2009 incident on a plane involving a dispute with her boyfriend and another passenger. Charges against her were later dropped.

She claims that a Sun journalist paid a police officer for information about the incident which was reported in an April 2009 story headlined: ‘Cover Girl Rages as Fella Romps on Jet’.

She argues the story caused her “loss, distress, anxiety, humiliation” and damage to her reputation. She said she was “extremely embarrassed” about her arrest, and that she had told nobody about it.

Air Canada airline captain Dufour was arrested on board his plane on 16 April 2009 and breathalysed by police. According to the judgment he was told the breath test was positive, but a later a blood test result came up below the legal limit so he was not charged.

The Sun published a story headlined: 'Armed Cops lift off Boozy Pilot'. Dufour accused a Met Police officer and a journalist of breaching his privacy.

He claims he had a reasonable expectation of privacy over details about his arrest and detention, over information about the night before his arrest and oved details of his blood and breathalyser tests.

He claims he suffered “loss, distress, anxiety, humiliation and damage to his reputation”. He complained that his reputation had been “sullied” and that he was “extremely embarrassed”.

The Sun argued that the fact someone has been arrested was not inherently private.

But Mr Justice Mann noted in his judgment: "The general practice of the police is, by and large, not to identify those who have been formally arrested, though the police themselves apparently identify this as a rule of practice rather than a principle of law."

He also quoted Sir Brian Leveson’s November 2012 report on the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press. In it Leveson said: " … I think that the current guidance in this area needs to be strengthened. For example, I think that it should be made abundantly clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances (for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public), the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press nor the public."

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