Rio Ferdinand loses privacy case against Sunday Mirror

Rio Ferdinand Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand is a married father of three

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Football star Rio Ferdinand has lost his High Court privacy action over a story in the Sunday Mirror about an alleged affair.

The Manchester United player was seeking substantial damages from MGN Ltd for misuse of private information.

The case was over an April 2010 Sunday Mirror article in which Carly Storey gave her account of their alleged relationship in return for £16,000.

The 32-year-old defender and his wife, Rebecca, have three children.

The case hinged on whether the newspaper was justified in publishing its story because the public interest was such that its Article 10 right to freedom of expression was of a greater importance than Ferdinand's Article 8 privacy right under the Human Rights Act.

Ferdinand had branded the article - My Affair with England Captain Rio - a "gross invasion of my privacy" and said he had not seen Ms Storey for six years by the time it appeared.

Mirror lawyer Marcus Partington: "If you are a public figure and create a false public image... then the press should be entitled to enter into that debate"

MGN said it was in the public interest to run the story about Ferdinand, who replaced John Terry as England captain in February 2010 after stories about Terry's alleged affairs emerged.

The story said Ferdinand ended the alleged relationship within days of being handed the captain's armband.

Its counsel, Gavin Millar QC, said Ferdinand was appointed England captain on the basis of being reformed and responsible. In fact, as the article said, this was not the case, he said.

He argued that the case was not really about Ferdinand's privacy but about the effect on the public image he had constructed, and was without merit.

Analysis

Today's judgement will hugely encourage a tabloid press that has been put firmly on the back foot by the phone hacking scandal.

It will give them far greater confidence to run stories about the private lives of people in the public eye. In short, precisely the kind of stories that sell newspapers.

However, they will need to show that the public image presented by the person is a misleading one, and that writing about their private life in a way that disproves the public image, contributes to a debate that is in the public interest.

The press have also campaigned against privacy injunctions and helped to force a move away from powerful injunctions taken out by the rich and famous to prevent stories about their private lives being published.

Today's victory, together with that work, will ensure that 'kiss and tell' remains very much on the agenda as a means of uncovering the indiscretions of the rich and powerful… as long as it can be attached to a matter of public interest.

In court, the judge, Mr Justice Nicol, said: "Overall, in my judgement, the balancing exercise favours the defendant's right of freedom of expression over the claimant's right of privacy."

He said: "At one level it was a 'kiss and tell' story. Even less attractively, it was a 'kiss and paid for telling' story, but stories may be in the public interest even if the reasons behind the informant providing the information are less than noble."

Of the England captaincy, he said: "It was a job that carried with it an expectation of high standards. In the views of many the captain was expected to maintain those standards off, as well as on, the pitch."

The judge refused Ferdinand permission to appeal, although he can renew his application directly to the Court of Appeal.

Ferdinand now faces a costs bill unofficially estimated at about £500,000, with £100,000 to be paid to MGN within 14 days on account of its £161,000 costs.

Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver said in a statement that the paper was "very pleased" about the court's decision.

"The judge found that there was a justified public interest in reporting the off-pitch behaviour of the then England captain and discussion of his suitability for such an important and ambassadorial role representing the country.

"We are pleased the judge ruled that Mr Ferdinand had perpetuated a misleading public image and the Sunday Mirror was entitled to correct this impression.

"There has never been greater scrutiny of the media than now, and we applaud this ruling in recognising the important role a free press has to play in a democratic society," it said.

Law firm Simons Muirhead & Burton issued a statement on Ferdinand's behalf, saying it was "extremely disappointed" with the court's decision and did not believe that it represented the law as it stood.

"It is our view that these are clearly private matters that ought never to have been published.

"We will be appealing the judgment at the first available opportunity."

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