Beckham wins the Battle of the Y-fronts as press are warned off footballers' wives

England 1, Paparazzi 0: agency to pay substantial damages over intrusive photo of captain as FA moves to protect stars and partners from tabloids
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The Independent Online

David Beckham scored a significant victory over media intrusion yesterday when a paparazzi picture agency agreed to pay substantial damages over a long-lens picture of the England captain in his underpants.

David Beckham scored a significant victory over media intrusion yesterday when a paparazzi picture agency agreed to pay substantial damages over a long-lens picture of the England captain in his underpants.

Beckham was outraged when the shot of him on his hotel room balcony in Lisbon appeared in the Sun and the Daily Star newspapers on Thursday. Lawyers for the Football Association argued the image breached strict Portuguese privacy laws and Press Complaints Commission guidelines, and it appears the FA is heading for a convincing victory on the issue.

The agency, Big Pictures, based in north London with offices in the US and Australia, has agreed to pay damages to a charity of Beckham's choice plus the FA's legal costs. It has also deleted the images from all of its files and ordered the photographer to do likewise.

The FA has also written to the editors of the Sun and the Daily Star demanding similar damages and a printed apology. On Friday the FA excluded photographers from both papers from its pooled photo shoot with Beckham. Instead the Sun carried a picture of the England captain in yesterday's paper taken during the World Cup in 2002, wearing a now outdated kit.

Lawyers from the FA have also written to the editors of two weekly celebrity-driven magazines, Heat and Closer, and it now seems certain that they will have to ditch plans to run the pictures in their next editions.

An FA spokesman said yesterday: "We are delighted that Big Pictures have admitted the error of their ways - distributing pictures taken illegally according to Portuguese law - and hope that this serves as a deterrent for any photographer who attempts to break the privacy of the England football team during their stay in Portugal.''

The Sports minister Richard Caborn echoed this, condemning the press's role in obtaining and publishing the photographs as "despicable" and "intrusive", and calling on them to "lay off".

The offending picture was taken on Tuesday from a road up to 400 metres down a hill from England's hotel, the Solplay in Lisbon. With security around the camp so tight the photographer shot the image using a 600mm lens with a "doubler'' to increase magnification. The FA argued that paragraph 3 of the PCC guidelines says pictures should not be taken if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. It was under these rules that The People had to pay damages for publishing pictures of the DJ Sara Cox on holiday.

The newly ebullient FA has also warned reporters and photographers not to intrude on the privacy of players' wives and girlfriends, who arrived on Friday. This follows a story in the Daily Mail which claimed - and possibly tried to foment - "ill-feeling" among the wives towards Victoria Beckham.

Both the long-lens Beckham picture and the inevitable "footballers' wives" story are testimony to the formidable security surrounding the players. Gone are the days when tabloid news reporters - known variously as "the Beastie Boys" or "the Rotters" to sports writing colleagues - could penetrate the players' sanctum and offer bribes to maids or barmen in the hope of some tittle-tattle. A 500m exclusion zone now surrounds the England hotel, and beyond that a further 500m area is patrolled by detectives.

But despite the obstacles, legal and physical, between the tabloids and their celebrity quarry, David Beckham has increasingly strained relations with some parts of the media. He tried to ban reporters from News International and Sky Television from a press conference during a pre-tournament training camp in Sardinia in retaliation for stories they ran about his alleged affair with his former PR Rebecca Loos. He relented when the media told him: "One out, all out.'' He has also recently rounded on the Daily Mail which he claimed unfairly cast aspersions on his role as a family man.

The tabloids are not taking these setbacks well. One source said: "He's just becoming over-precious and is risking a real backlash. He is letting the cult of his brand take precedence over his role as captain. He should be an intermediary between the team and the press and public but he has been acting like a prima donna, letting disputes over his private life dictate who is allowed to attend press conferences." The source added: "The situation is now that if he slips up at all during this competition, the tabloids will have no regrets about savaging him."

Until that happens, all news reporters, tabloid or otherwise, are having to concentrate on covering the movements, alcohol consumption and demeanour of the thousands of England fans in Lisbon and the Algarve. Even the BBC has joined in - setting up camp on one floor of a hotel overlooking the central Rossio Square, where hundreds of fans drinking litre glasses of lager have been congregating.

Time will tell.