£50,000 each for personal distress, say Douglases

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The Independent Online

Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas put a price yesterday of £100,000 on the personal distress they suffered when secretly taken photographs of their wedding appeared in Hello! magazine. But their commercial distress was estimated by their lawyers to be £500,000.

Alistair Wilson, QC, representing the actors, told the High Court the couple had suffered "real distress" akin to the invasion of personal privacy felt by burglary victims.

Yesterday's hearing was the opening of the second phase of the couple's battle with Hello! over the unauthorised publication of photographs of their wedding at the Plaza Hotel, New York, in November 2000.

In April, Mr Justice Lindsay judge rejected their claim of breach of privacy, but ruled the couple's rights of confidence had been breached by Hello! because they had signed a £1m deal with the rival OK! magazine for exclusive rights to their wedding photographs. The same judge now has to decide what damages Hello! must pay to the couple and to OK!.

The Douglases are claiming £500,000 in commercial damages, based on what they might have charged Hello! for use of the pictures. OK! has also sued for £1.75m commercial damages. On personal damages, Mr Wilson said the Douglases' "sense of euphoria was suddenly shattered" when they realised that Hello! had pictures taken during their wedding.

Since they had taken enormous care to try to preserve their privacy, personal damages should be more than might have been allotted, he said, and a figure of £50,000 each "would not be unreasonable''.

Mr Wilson said: "This is rather like a burglary when possessions are stolen and the value gone and at the same time you feel a sense of personal invasion of privacy. This is a real distress quite separate from the value of possessions which have also disappeared."

He added: "Their distress has continued. You should take into account the huge care taken in this case to preserve privacy. These are potent factors that push the damages a long way above what might otherwise be the norm.''

The court was told the couple had suffered paparazzi intrusion when Ms Zeta Jones was in hospital giving birth to their first child, Dylan, and photographs appeared in the British press. They were also aware that other celebrity weddings had been dogged by photographers hovering overhead in helicopters, climbing over walls and posing as guests.

Because of these factors, the couple had accepted the offer of an exclusive deal with OK! and forbidden their own guests to take photographs during the ceremony.

During the earlier six-week hearing, Ms Zeta Jones told the court she had felt "devastated, shocked and appalled" when she realised that the British paparazzo Rupert Thorpe - son of the former leader of the Liberal Party - had gatecrashed the wedding and secretly taken pictures despite massive security precautions. She also stressed that the case was "absolutely not about the money".

In his ruling in April, the judge said the wedding was an exceptional event for any bride and groom and just because Mr Douglas, 58, and Ms Zeta Jones, 33, were public figures did not lessen their right to complain about intrusion. There was no doubt they had suffered real distress, said the judge, and Ms Zeta Jones had cried when she learnt of the unauthorised photographs.

The hearing continues.