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TV & Radio

'Stig' identity case reaches High Court

A bid to prevent the revelation of the identity of Top Gear's mystery driver The Stig began in private at the High Court today.

The BBC has taken legal action to block publication by HarperCollins of an autobiography which would unmask the faceless show favourite, who speeds around a race track with a blackened visor.

It is claimed he is bound by a confidentiality agreement and that revealing who he is would spoil viewers' enjoyment of the popular BBC Two programme.

At the start of a day-long hearing before Mr Justice Morgan in London, the BBC's counsel, Richard Spearman QC, said the press and public should be excluded from hearing the legal arguments.

But Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the publishers, said they should stay but be subject to extensive restrictions covering the disclosure of any confidential information pending the conclusion of the matter.

Ordering that it was appropriate to proceed behind closed doors, the judge said publicity would plainly defeat the object of the hearing.

"It seems to me that having the hearing in private is a much more effective barrier to information which might in due course be the subject of an injunction passing more widely into the public domain."

He added that the public interest in "having justice in open court for all to hear" could be dealt with by a public judgment being given "in due course".

It is possible that there will be no decision today.

The current Stig is the second in the role. The first Stig, Perry McCarthy, was dropped in 2003 after his identity was uncovered.

After news of the legal action broke, HarperCollins criticised the corporation for using licence fee cash on the moves to block the book and said it would "vigorously defend" its right to publish it.

In a statement, the publisher said: "We are disappointed that the BBC has chosen to spend licence fee-payers' money to suppress this book and will vigorously defend the perfectly legitimate right of this individual to tell his story."