The partner of MP Chris Huhne, Carina Trimingham, has had her claim for harassment and breach of privacy against the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday rejected by the High Court.
Trimingham had an affair with former Secretary of State Huhne which led to him leaving his wife of 26 years in June 2010 when the matter was made public. Trimingham sued over some 65 “highy unpleasant and hurtful” articles which appeared in the Mail which she said represented a “cataclysmic interference” in her private life.
Trimingham was particulary concerned that many of the articles made reference to her bisexuality.
But Mr Justice Tungendhat handed down a judgment today which rejected her claim saying: “Ms Trimingham was not the purely private figure she claims to be. Her reasonable expectation of privacy has become limited.”
He added: “This is mainly by reason of her involvement with Mr Huhne, both professionally, as his press agent, and personally as his secret mistress, in circumstances where he campaigned with a leaflet to the electorate of Eastleigh about how much he valued his family. But it is also by reason of what she herself has disclosed in the past.
“Further, she was, as the defendant knew, a journalist who had herself disclosed information about other people for publication in the newspapers and so was a person who ought not reasonably to be expected to be distressed when such information was published about herself.”
The articles which Trimingham complained about included:
- ‘Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne pictured with his mistress hours before he admitted cheating on his wife of 26 years”, Mail on Sunday 20 June 2010.
- ‘Chris Huhne’s bisexual lover: Life and very different loves of the PR girl in Doc Martens’by Barbara Davies, Daily Mail 21 June 2010.
- ‘First picture of Chris Huhne’s lover and the lesbian civil partner she has left broken-hearted’by Barbara Davies, Daily Mail 22 June 2010.
- ‘It’s Chris Huhne’s hypocrisy and lies that matter, not his sex life’by Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail 22 June 2010.
- ‘Cheat on my wife? Nothing like that will ever emerge? What hypocrite Huhne told the voters in 2007’by Sam Greenhill and Katherine Faulkner, Daily Mail 23 June 2010.
- “Huhne, Hughes and their very Liberal lover’by Richard Kay, Daily Mail 24 June 2010.
Noting that the Mail titles made reference to Ms Trimingham’s sexuality in 65 articles over the course of 15 months he said the papers were justified in doing so because they “only did so (a) when writing about matters of public interest, mainly developments in Mr Huhne’s personal life which were relevant to his public life, and (b) when Ms Trimingham and her conduct (and other information about her) were within the range of what an editor could in good faith regard as relevant to the story.”
The judgment also defended often robust comment on the stories.
These included a Richard Littlejohn story from 22 June 2010 which stated: “If you asked to draw a comedy lesbian from central casting, Carina Trimingham is what you’d get. All spiky hair and Doc Martens. Chuck in a boiler suit and she’s Milly Tant straight from the pages of Viz magazine….What Huhne sees in her can only be a matter for speculation. Apparently she has told friends that the sex with Huhne is ‘amazing’, which must have gone down a storm with Sapphic Sisterhoodâ€¦
“While love can be blind, did he know when he began the relationship that Miss Trimingham was already married to a lesbian?
“As a former journalist himself Huhne must have realised that the headline ‘Married Minister in Lesbian Love Triangle’ would prove irresistible…”
The judge said: “To the extent that the words complained of include insults and other offensive matter, insulting and offensive speech is protected by the right of freedom of expression. In this case what Ms Trimingham complains of is not so unreasonable that it is necessary or proportionate to sanction or prohibit such publications in order to protect the rights of Ms Trimingham. So the defendant has not harassed her within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
“It is not the case that a reasonable person in the position of the defendant ought to have known that these articles, separately, or cumulatively, amount to harassment of Ms Trimingham.”
On the issue of privacy, the judgment adds: “I have also found that she had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to various items of information, including the images published on a total of occasions. These were cropped versions of photographs which had been taken at and immediately before her civil partnership ceremony in June 2007, but which reveal no more information about her than the public already knew.”
This judgment is likely to be a seen as a major landmark in the shifting legal battle of the press right to freedom of expression versus an individual’s right to privacy.