Sebastian Coe’s failure to stop Sunday newspapers publishing details of a secret affair showed that judges were not carving out a new privacy law, lawyers said yesterday.
In the first notable privacy case since the House of Lords ruled in Naomi Campbell’s favour against a Daily Mirror story about her drug problem earlier this month, Lord Coe, chairman of London’s Olympic bid, went to court on Saturday night in a last-minute attempt to halt publication of an interview with his former lover Vanessa Lander.
But Mr Justice Fulford refused a temporary injunction, saying he was not satisfied that if full arguments were aired on both sides Lord Coe would win a permanent ban.
The newspapers’ right to publish and Ms Lander’s right to free speech outweighed Lord Coe’s right to keep personal information private.
“One of the balancing acts to be performed is the need to protect Lord Coe’s private interests weighed against the freedom of the press and against what is said to be a matter of public interest.
“In all the circumstances I don’t find that this was a situation in which he could expect his privacy to be protected, and accordingly I do not agree that the test – that he had a real prospect that publication should not be allowed – was satisfied.”
When the law lords ruled by three to two that Campbell had the right to keep details of her drug addiction treatment private it was hailed by some as a landmark privacy ruling.
Patrick Milmo QC, for Lord Coe, said that ruling meant that Lord Coe’s personal information could not be “misused”.
But the judge’s ruling makes it clear that the protection the law lords extended to details of medical treatment will not avail a public figure hoping to cover up something very different: the facts of an extramarital affair.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of a leading textbook on media law, said: “The Naomi Campbell case merely demonstrates that the courts will be astute to protect genuinely private matters, such as medical information or treatment details, which it is in the public interest for individuals to keep to themselves.
“Although there was little or no real public interest in learning about Lord Coe’s relationships, the free speech right of his girlfriend to talk about it trumped any claim he could make to keep it secret.