The British film star Sienna Miller yesterday launched a landmark legal action against the paparazzi photographers who had made her life "intolerable" by aggressively pursuing her all over the world. Ms Miller is seeking compensation and an injunction against one of the most notorious firms of paparazzi after claiming she had been victim of a "campaign of harassment".
If she wins, the media could face a flood of similar actions from celebrities claiming breaches of privacy and harassment. The case will also test the law surrounding the conduct of photographers in public places.
Lawyers for the 26-year-old actress said that in the past four months she had been subject to physical and verbal abuse and was twice involved in dangerous car chases with photographers.
Ms Miller's claim for harassment and breach of privacy is against the photographic agency Big Pictures (UK) Ltd and its founder, Darryn Lyons.
It follows a complaint by Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, settled last year by the Press Complaints Commission, out of court.
During yesterday's preliminary hearing before Mr Justice Eady, the court heard that Ms Miller, who has starred in the films Layer Cake and Alfie, had complained of a series of incidents including being confronted outside her house in Maida Vale, London, on 22 June "and then chased by car in a dangerous manner to Heathrow airport". On 21 July, following her return from Italy, she was pursued and harassed in west London, and on 28 August, after returning to London from Ibiza, she was pursued as she attempted to walk her dogs in the park with her mother. Other examples include being "pursued in a dangerous manner all the way from Stroud to Heathrow" on 7 September, which she found "very frightening".
She says the harassment included an incident in which she was pursued to a petrol station in Malibu, California, where she was "hounded and taunted".
Last night media law experts said that the case could be the first big celebrity privacy claim to be decided under the protection from harassment laws which were brought in 1997 to help prosecute stalkers.
Amber Melville-Brown, a media law specialist, said: "It is an offence to pursue a course of conduct, being on two occasions or more, which amounts to harassment of another, causing the subject alarm or distress, and which they know or ought to know amounts to the same. Any individual pursued relentlessly by a photographer might consider this fits the bill precisely."
During yesterday's preliminary hearing Ms Miller's barrister, David Sherborne, said the pictures taken and later published captured the actress in "essentially private moments". As a result Ms Miller had suffered "substantial distress and embarrassment, as well as loss and damage", he added.
It was important for the claim to be determined "one way or another" for all concerned, but "particularly for the claimant whose life has been made intolerable". Photographers' "relentless pursuit" of Ms Miller "represents a gross violation of her rights".
A spokesman for Big Pictures (UK) Ltd said the company and Mr Lyons were defending the claim but declined to comment further. The case is expected to be heard in full later this year.
Face to face: The snapper and the celebrity
Darryn Lyons Paparazzi photographer
Born: Geelong, Australia.
Career: Landed a job on News of the World after chance meeting with Rupert Murdoch. Set up agency Big Pictures in 1992. Took the now famous pictures of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed on holiday.
Sienna Miller Actress and model
Born: New York. (Came to London aged one).
Career: Modelled for Vogue, Prada and 2003 Pirelli calendar. Film debut was in Carlo Vanzini's South Kensington. Was in 2004 remake of Alfie with Jude Law and, in the same year, Layer Cake, with Daniel Craig.Reuse content