A High Court judge upheld an injunction protecting the identity of former bank chief Sir Fred Goodwin’s secret lover saying there was no evidence that the affair distracted him from doing his job.
News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun and News of then World, yesterday sought the lifting of the order covering the former Royal Bank of Scotland boss.
Justice Tugendhat said that the purpose of the existing injunction “is not to keep a secret but to prevent intrusion and distress”.
He added that it was particularly important that any job description given for the woman, identified only as VBN – a senior colleague of Sir Fred’s at RBS – should not be so general as to be understood to refer to persons other than VBN.
He said that VBN’s evidence was that she was a private person, with a family, and that publication of her name would be a very serious intrusion into her private and family life.
The judge added that he inferred from Goodwin’s evidence that he was content that the court should proceed on the basis that he did have a relationship with VBN, as alleged by The Sun, and had not told any friends or colleagues who would view it with serious disapproval.
He referred to a March witness statement in which Sir Fred said that the nature of the relationship was an “entirely private matter”.
“I am a private man. I have never discussed my personal life or relationships in public,” he said.
He believed that publication of the confidential information would have a “very substantial impact on the way in which friends, colleagues and business contacts relate to me and therefore a serious negative impact on my personal life and career”.
The judge said that publication of VBN’s name would be a significant intrusion into her private and family life from which she was entitled to be protected.
But, while publication of her job description would lead many people to identify her, and would also be an intrusion into her private and family life, the information was an “important feature” of the story.
Also, as her evidence made clear, her name had already become known to some of her acquaintances, in some cases by reason of publications outside the press and broadcast media.
The additional publication likely to follow from publication of her role was not likely to be so great a further intrusion into her private life as to make it necessary and proportionate to interfere with the Article 10 rights of News Group.
On the issue of public interest, the judge said there should be public discussion of the circumstances in which it is proper for a chief executive – or other person holding public office or exercising official functions – to carry on a sexual relationship with an employee in the same organisation.
He added that he was satisfied that Sir Fred or VBN would be likely to establish that any trial judge should make no finding of any breach of the RBS Group Code of Conduct on Integrity Matters (the RBS Code).
There was no evidence in court of such a breach, assuming that the question was a matter for the court to decide.
He was also satisfied that Goodwin or VBN would be likely to defeat any case NGN might make to the effect that the relationship had an impact on the financial difficulties of RBS.
“I regard the suggestion as most implausible, and there is no evidence before me to support it.”
He added: “It cannot be right that the press should be free to interfere with a person’s private and family life by exposing confidential information, and then seek to justify that by speculating that the information might have distracted him from doing his job.
“In the present case, there is no evidence that Sir Fred Goodwin was distracted from doing his job by his relationship with VBN. It is speculation by NGN.”