Landmark media win in footballer privacy trial

Public interest defence succeeds in Rio Ferdinand ‘kiss n tell’

Nicol J in the High Court has today held that the Sunday Mirror was justified in publishing a ‘kiss and tell’ about the England footballer, Rio Ferdinand.  Following a three-day trial in July in which the Claimant gave evidence and was cross-examined, the Judge found that the newspaper’s rights to freedom of expression outweighed the footballer’s rights to privacy in a landmark victory for the media.

In April 2010, the Sunday Mirror published an article about Rio Ferdinand alleging that he had been having an affair with Carly Storey, who he had first met in 1996. The article alleged that the Claimant had ‘dumped’ Ms Storey in February 2010, when he was appointed England football captain, out of fear that he would be exposed like his predecessor John Terry (who had been dismissed over allegations of an extra-marital affair).  Ferdinand sued MGN Limited in misuse of private information and breach of confidence.

The Sunday Mirror defended the action on the grounds that the publication of the article was justified in the public interest. It said that Ferdinand had in recent years deliberately promoted an image of himself as a reformed character and family man, which the paper was entitled to expose as false. It further argued that the article contributed to an ongoing public debate about the suitability of Ferdinand to take on the position of England Captain following the John Terry debacle.

Handing down judgment today, Nicol J agreed that there was a public interest in correcting the false image cultivated by Ferdinand and that the article contributed to a legitimate public debate about the suitability of Ferdinand as England Captain.  He further held that the additional details in the article, which included details of the couple’s early relationship, a photograph and text messages, did not excessively intrude into his private life.

This is an important decision for the media, reasserting their rights to freedom of expression under Art 10 and their right to publish stories in the public interest.   It is the first privacy case reaching trial in which the disclosure of an extra-marital affair has been held to be justified and proportionate.

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5RB’s Yuli Takatsuki (instructed by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain) was Junior Counsel for MGN Limited.