UK

Footballer 'entitled to anonymity', says judge

  • 16 May 2011
  • From the section UK
Imogen Thomas
Image caption Imogen Thomas said her reputation had been 'trashed'

A footballer granted a temporary injunction to stop publication about a relationship with a reality TV star was "fully entitled" to anonymity, a High Court judge says.

Justice Eady has reserved judgement on lifting the injunction after a private hearing with the man's lawyers, the Sun and Imogen Thomas in London.

He said the footballer was married with a family and the court had to consider his privacy rights under European law.

Ms Thomas said she had been "gagged".

Justice Eady granted the temporary injunction last month and said Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms applied to the man's right to privacy.

He said the footballer was likely to obtain a permanent injunction if the case went to trial and the "information" was such that he was entitled to a "reasonable expectation of privacy".

The judge added: "It seemed to me that the (footballer) was fully entitled to the protection of anonymity."

The temporary injunction was issued against News Group Newspapers, publisher of the Sun, and against Ms Thomas to "restrain publication" of the footballer's identity and further accounts of the relationship.

They were at the High Court on Monday to get the injunction lifted, allowing them to publish the name of the footballer.

'Romping'

It came after the Sun published an article on 14 April about a sexual relationship Ms Thomas had with the footballer, who was not named in the story.

The footballer made a statement saying he met Ms Thomas last September, and two further times in November and December, the judge said, although Ms Thomas's "published account" said an affair lasted for six months.

Mr Justice Eady said evidence "appeared strongly to suggest" that the footballer was "being blackmailed".

The footballer's witness statement said Ms Thomas asked for £50,000, which he initially refused to give her. She later increased her request to £100,000.

It seemed that the footballer "may well have been set up" so that photographs could be taken of Ms Thomas going to meet the footballer at hotels where he was staying, the judge said.

On 13 April Ms Thomas told the footballer that the Sun was considering publishing a story about them having an affair for six months - with photographs of her at or near hotels.

"It seems... that the Sun was ready to take advantage of these prearranged meetings in order to be able to put forward the claim that it was The Sun which had found him 'romping with a busty Big Brother babe'," added the judge.

"This is no doubt to give the impression, which Ms Thomas herself may have fostered, that a sexual liaison between them was still continuing... in April," he said.

Ms Thomas' lawyer, David Price, told the court that his client denied "causing the publication" in the Sun or asking the footballer for money during their meetings.

Columnist's e-mails

Outside court Ms Thomas said in a statement: "I've read the judgment and am stunned by how I'm portrayed. Yet again, my name and my reputation are being trashed while the man I had a relationship with is able to hide.

"What's more, I can't even defend myself because I've been gagged. Where's the fairness in this? What about my reputation? If this is the way privacy injunctions are supposed to work, then there's something seriously wrong with the law."

Also at the hearing, lawyers for the footballer applied to see e-mails sent by former Sun editor and now columnist Kelvin MacKenzie.

They applied because MacKenzie said, on the BBC's Today programme, that he sometimes breaks injunctions and sends details to readers.

MacKenzie is not a party to the case, but if the application is granted and the e-mails show him to be flouting injunctions he knew about, then he would be in contempt of court, says BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman.

The judge has reserved judgement on the application regarding the e-mails, and the application to vary or lift the injunction.

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