News of the World head lawyer Tom Crone has said the paper’s privacy victory over England captain John Terry could lead to a “fundamental reassessment of our draconian privacy laws”.
On Friday, the paper overturned a wide-reaching injunction banning it from writing anything about the extra-marital affair conducted by Terry, who is married with two children.
The legal victory allowed the News International Sunday redtop to reveal yesterday that, in addition to having an affair with lingerie model Vanessa Perroncel the former girlfriend of team-mate Wayne Bridge, Terry had made her pregnant and then paid for her to have an abortion.
According to the NoW, Perroncel and Terry had a four-month affair, dating back to September. The paper said “we caught him sneaking off to her home for secret romps after away games and training” as it published photos of Terry arriving at Perroncel’s home in Oxshott, Surrey, on 13 January.
Perroncel has now hired publicist Max Clifford, the NoW added.
News International legal manager Tom Crone said of Friday’s High Court ruling: “We welcome Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision as a long overdue breath of fresh air and common sense coming out of the privacy courts.
“Over recent years, there has been more prior restraint on freedom of speech in Britain than in any other democratic country in the world.
“Gagging orders like the one sought by John Terry have been granted to numerous other Premier League footballers and assorted celebrities.”
He said that he hoped this “victory by the News of the World will lead to a fundamental reassessment of our draconian privacy laws”.
He added: “The British public’s right to know has been the victim of this legal process. Hopefully that will now change.”
Recent case law, famously demonstrated when Formula One boss Max Mosley’s High Court victory against the News of the World last year, has suggested that the exposure of the extra-marital activities of a public figure does not constitute enough of a public interest to override their right to privacy under Article Eight of the Human Rights Act.
Mr Justice Tugendhat had granted an interim order on Friday 22 January banning the News of the World and other newspapers from revealing Terry’s affair – or from even reporting that the injunction had been made. However he lifted the injunction on Friday saying that the affair was already widely known by people involved in football.
He said: “I accept that the information sought to be protected is not in the public domain in the sense that there is nothing left to be protected.
“But the evidence is that there has been wide circulation amongst those involved in the sport in question, including agents and others, and not just amongst those directly engaged in the sport.
“If the injunction ought otherwise be granted, I would not refuse it on this basis.
“But the fact that the information has become as widely available to so many people means that an injunction is less necessary or proportionate than would otherwise be the case.”
He also said that he believed that Terry’s real concern was his business interests, therefore it was better for him to pursue his case for breach of privacy by taking the NoW court after publication.
The judge said: “Further, if – as I think likely – the real concern of the applicant in this case is the effect of publication upon the sponsorship business, then damages would be an adequate remedy if LNS [John Terry] succeeds at trial.”
The judge said that Terry was concerned about his reputation, rather than any other aspect of his private life, and noted that there was no mention in the evidence of any personal distress on his part.
He said: “As to personal attributes, LNS appears to have a very robust personality, as one might expect of a leading professional sportsman.
“It does not seem likely to me that the concern expressed on LNS’s behalf for the private lives of the other person and the interested persons is altruistic.
“This claim is essentially a business matter for LNS.”
The judge noted that Terry’s behaviour may well have been of interest to his commercial sponsors.
He said: “…in a plural society there will be some who would suggest that it ought to be discouraged.
“That is why sponsors may be sensitive to the public image of those sportspersons whom they pay to promote their products.
“Freedom to live as one chooses is one of the most valuable freedoms.
“But so is the freedom to criticise, within the limits of the law, the conduct of other members of society as being socially harmful, or wrong.”
Although the judge lifted the injunction, he left the door open for Terry to sue for breach of privacy at a later date saying: “The contents of this judgment should not pre-empt the publication by any newspaper, if that is what any newspaper decides now to do.
“Nor should this judgment, by placing information in the public domain, undermine any remedy in damages LNS, or anyone else, may ultimately be found to have against any publisher in respect of matters that may be published about the events to which this judgment relates.”