People footballer case 'a matter of principle'

Wallis:footballer is "cheating rat"

The Sunday People took on the footballer who wanted to prevent the paper publishing accounts of his extra-marital sex as "a matter of principle", not because it wanted to publish the specifics of a kiss-and-tell, said editor Neil Wallis.

"They were an irrelevance. It is going to cost this footballer £200,000 to keep from his wife the fact that he is a cheating rat. But it could have gone the other way and you don’t spend £200,000 willy-nilly on a story like this," Wallis told Press Gazette.

He said that he was nowhere near the point of putting the story in the paper when the footballer injuncted the People. "We weren’t going to stand for it. If he had succeeded, it would have had ramifications for everybody. We did it because it was the right thing. We have won a victory of huge importance for the entire industry."

He pointed out that Mr Justice Morland, sitting in the Naomi Campbell v The Mirror case, had said he would wait for the footballer appeal verdict. "I don’t think our verdict would have given succour to Naomi Campbell and her lawyers," he stated. "They can only look at this and see it as a serious signal that if you are a celebrity you cannot have it two ways."

The Court of Appeal has allowed the Sunday People to name the Premiership footballer, after a three-week stay to allow him to seek to challenge the verdict in the House of Lords.

This has been hailed by the rest of the press as a landmark victory for press freedom after the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, issued guidelines which have established new standards for the press reporting of celebrities seeking to protect their privacy through the courts.

Lord Woolf said: "In our view, to grant an injunction would be an unjustified interference with the freedom of the press.

"Once it is accepted that the freedom of the press should prevail, then the form of reporting in the press is not a matter for the courts but for the Press Complaints Commission and the customers of the newspaper concerned."

Lord Woolf warned courts dealing with celebrity cases: "Any interference with publication has to be justified because it inevitably has some effect on the ability of the press to perform its role in society. A public figure is entitled to a private life. The individual, however, should recognise that because of his public position he must expect and accept that his actions will be more closely scrutinised by the media. Even trivial facts relating to a public figure can be of great interest to readers."

The public figure could be a role model, he said, whose conduct might be emulated by others, adding: "If you have courted public attention, you have less grounds to object to the intrusion which follows."

PCC acting chairman Professor Robert Pinker, delighted by the "comprehensive commonsense judgement of the Court of Appeal", said: "The strong judgment endorses and strengthens effective self-regulation under the tough Code of Practice.

"This is a victory, above all, for ordinary people."

The Sunday People has led the way on battling against celebrity injunctions, overturning those sought by Jamie Theakston and the Attard Siamese twins’ parents.

By Jean Morgan and Roger Pearson

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