'Trinity Mirror court battles prevented a UK privacy law'

Campbell and Flitcroft: boost case for self-regulation, says PCC’s Black

Expensive legal battles fought this year by the Daily Mirror and the Sunday People against supermodel Naomi Campbell and footballer Garry Flitcroft have prevented the UK from getting a privacy law, believes the director of the Press Complaints Commission.

After the Appeal Court this week overturned a judge’s decision to award Campbell £3,500 damages against the Mirror, Guy Black told Press Gazette: "This is a hugely important judgment both for press freedom and industry self-regulation. Along with the Flitcroft judgment, it underlines that privacy is a matter best dealt with by the PCC, with the courts intervening only where the PCC fails in its duty.

"I would like to pay great tribute to the people at Trinity Mirror who fought these cases. If the company had rolled over we would have had a privacy law by now."

Campbell won the damages after the Mirror revealed she had been attending Narcotics Anonymous. Editor Piers Morgan said: "I hope this historic victory sends a message to the more egotistical, pampered, self-deluded celebrities out there that if you relentlessly court the media and make money out of us, then you have to accept the occasional journalistic rough with the smooth.

"This judgment is not a licence for us to trample on the privacy of the man or woman in the street. This is a licence for us to reveal perfectly justifiable information about public figures if they deliberately lie about themselves to protect their commercial images. There has been a lot of self-interested squealing recently about the ineffectiveness of the PCC. But this story was published within the strict guidelines of the commission and shows unequivocally that self-regulation of the press works."

Charles Collier Wright, Trinity Mirror group legal manager, believes that the most important factor for journalists and publishers arising out of Campbell’s defeat is that the newspaper was cleared of breaching the Data Protection Act when it published "sensitive personal data" about her.

"It had alarming possibilities for all newspapers," he said. Personal data collected for the special purposes of journalists is exempt from prosecution under the act. But the decision of Mr Justice Morland to rule in Campbell’s case that it was exempt only until the moment of publication fell foul of the Appeal Court. It decided publication was part of the process and so part of the exemption.

Master of the Rolls Lord Phillips said he and Lords Justices Chadwick and Keene considered the Mirror was entitled to publish what it did in the public interest. He said the appeal court did not consider information that Campbell was receiving NA therapy was to be equated with disclosure of clinical details of medical treatment.

The disclosure was not of sufficient significance to justify the intervention of the court, he said.

"The detail given, and the photographs, were a legitimate part of the journalistic package designed to demonstrate that Campbell had been deceiving the public," he added.

"Provided that publication of particular confidential information is justifiable in the public interest, the journalist must be given reasonable latitude as to the manner in which that information is conveyed to the public."

By Jean Morgan and Roger Pearson

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