England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand has failed in his bid to prevent the media reporting that he had a 13-year relationship with an interior designer.
A High Court judge ruled that while the designer's motives may have been "less than noble" he was satisfied there was a public interest in the publication of the "kiss and tell" story.
Mr Ferdinand had sought £50,000 damages following the publication of a story under the headline, "My affair with England captain Rio". He had argued it was a "gross invasion" of his privacy and demanded the court impose a worldwide gagging order on the designer and the media to prevent them repeating the claims.
But Mr Justice Nicol ruled in favour of the Sunday Mirror, which had published the report on 25 April 2010, on the grounds that there was a public interest in the behaviour of England football captains. The footballer now faces a legal bill of £500,000 – or less than five weeks' pay.
The article claimed that Mr Ferdinand, who has a wife and three children, ended his relationship with Carly Storey within days of being appointed England captain in February 2010. Ms Storey, portrayed in the paper as the footballer's "dirty little secret" for 13 years, had been paid £16,000 by the paper for her version of events.
"Overall, in my judgment, the balancing exercise favours the defendant's right of freedom of expression over the claimant's right of privacy," said the judge. "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 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."
Mr Justice Nicol added in his ruling: "During the course of the hearing I asked the parties whether it was incumbent on me to decide whether the claimant was fit to be England captain. Thankfully, they agreed that it was not. The issue is rather whether the defendant's article reasonably contributed to the debate as to his suitability for that role."
During the trial the judge was presented with a list of ten women with whom the footballer was said to have had affairs, and the Sunday Mirror argued that the footballer was less concerned about his privacy than protecting his public image.
Tina Weaver, the editor of the Sunday Mirror, welcomed the judge's ruling and said in a statement: "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." Mr Ferdinand was refused leave to appeal but it is an option still open to him.
The law firm Simons Muirhead & Burton said on the footballer's behalf that he intends to do so. They also said in a statement that they thought the judge had got the law wrong: "We are extremely disappointed with the court's decision and do not believe that it represents the law as it stands. It is our view that these are clearly private matters that ought never to have been published."