Campbell wins privacy court action

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The Independent Online

Supermodel Naomi Campbell today won her groundbreaking privacy action against The Mirror newspaper, but was awarded damages of only £3,500.

Campbell, 31, sued the newspaper for breach of confidence and/or unlawful invasion of privacy after it published a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London's King's Road in February last year.

The judge ruled that she had succeeded in establishing breach of confidentiality and breach of the Data Protection Act, and refused the newspaper leave to appeal.

MGN Ltd argued that there was no absolute law of privacy in this country and that her case in breach of confidence "did not get off the ground".

The award of £3,500 includes an element of £1,000 in aggravated damages to reflect the paper's conduct towards Campbell after the initial publication. Campbell was also awarded costs, estimated to be about £200,000.

Campbell had told the judge, who heard the case without a jury, that she felt "shocked, angry, betrayed and violated" by the story which said that she had been receiving regular counselling in a "courageous bid" to beat her addiction to drugs.

"Of course it was distressing to be branded a drug addict, but what I found particularly unpleasant and intrusive, was that The Mirror printed details of my treatment and photographs of me outside one of the counselling sessions."

She was worried that she did not know who it was close to her who had tipped off the newspaper. "For the first time in a long while I doubted myself and my resolve to go on."

She said that since the article she had only attended four NA meetings in England, adding that she was just trying to "put a brave face on the situation" when she said in an interview that she was upset for about five minutes.

Her claim for aggravated damages was founded on the newspaper's series of "vindictive" articles post publication. She thought that their reference to her as a "chocolate soldier" was racist. "I did not believe that newspapers could be so offensive."

Campbell agreed that it was untrue to tell US TV in June 2000 that she had never touched drugs but, at that point, she had been clean for one­and­a­half years.

Her counsel, Andrew Caldecott QC, countered The Mirror's accusation that Campbell had lied "on a grandiose scale" by urging the need for a "humane and pragmatic approach" by the court.

Desmond Browne QC, for the newspaper, told the judge: "This case is about whether the equitable right of confidentiality permits celebrities to manipulate their public image to their own advantage.

"The issue is whether celebrities like Miss Campbell are entitled to select what information – or more significantly in this case, misinformation – they release to the public, and then go to court seeking damages when the truth is told."

He said that Miss Campbell was "guilty of serious criminal behaviour in illegally abusing drugs over a number of years".

She had also deceived the public by making public statements boasting to the media that she had avoided illegal drugs when others in the modelling world had succumbed.

"That deceit is an additional ground for depriving her of any right to be heard to complain about disclosure of her drug addiction."

The picture of her leaving NA was taken in a public place and what was published amounted to additional details which were so harmless and trivial that no damage could have been caused.

The judge said Campbell had established she was entitled to damages for both breach of confidentiality and under the Data Protection Act.

Her claim for damages for infringement of privacy was not pursued.

"In my judgment, it matters not whether therapy is obtained by means of professional medical input or by alternative means such as group counselling or as here organised meetings for discussion between sufferers.

"They (the details) were obtained surreptitiously assisted by covert photography when Miss Campbell was engaged deliberately "low key" and drably dressed in the private activity of therapy to advance her recovery from drug addiction."

The information giving details of her regular attendance at NA must have been imparted in circumstances "importing an obligation of confidence".

"The information clearly bore the badge of confidentiality and when received by the defendants they, Mr Morgan and the Mirror journalists were clothed in conscience with the duty of confidentiality."

Turning to the Data Protection Act, the judge said that the information as to the nature of, and details of, the therapy that Campbell was receiving, including the photographs with captions, was clearly related to her physical or mental health or condition and was therefore "sensitive personal data".

The judge said that it was not necessary to publish the therapy details complained of.

"All that needed to be published in pursuit of the defendant's legitimate interests were the facts of drug addiction and therapy – fullstop.

In his judgment, disclosure of details of her therapy was not in the substantial public interest.

The judge said that inevitably a top fashion model like Campbell would be the subject of media interest which would be greatly increased if she "has a colourful temperament and private life".

He assumed that she expected and, to a degree, welcomed, some media attention and intrusion when she was engaged in public promotions and appearances to further her commercial interests.

He said that Campbell had lied about her drug addiction in interviews.

The judge said: "Although many aspects of the private lives of celebrities and public figures will inevitably enter the public domain, in my judgment it does not follow that even with self­publicists every aspect and detail of their private lives are legitimate quarry for the journalist.

"They are entitled to some space of privacy."

To conform with the European Convention of Human Rights, the media should respect information about the private lives of celebrities, certainly "sensitive personal data", unless there is an overriding public interest to publish.