Police chief hails win in 'Mail' case as a victory for privacy

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The Independent Online

The police chief Brian Paddick yesterday launched a withering attack on the "shocking and sickening" methods of The Mail on Sunday after a legal victory costing the newspaper up to £450,000.

Mr Paddick, Britain's most senior openly gay police officer and the pioneer of a more lenient policy on cannabis, condemned the paper's "kiss-and-tell" methods and said he hoped the out-of-court-settlement would rein in media intrusion into private lives.

Yesterday's deal cemented Mr Paddick's comeback amid allegations made in the paper by his former lover James Renolleau that he had smoked cannabis and allowed the drug to be taken in his home. The Mail on Sunday, which paid £100,000 to Mr Renolleau and a further £6,000 to his ex-fiancée to contribute to the article, accepted that the allegations of drug taking were untrue. Mr Paddick took legal action over breach of confidence and yesterday's agreement avoided a court hearing scheduled for February.

He said: "The sources were paid over £100,000 to provide intimate details of our lives together and when I say intimate details, some of the questions required them to go into shocking and sickening levels of detail. And much of the information they gave was false. I am relieved that The Mail on Sunday has at last seen sense and agreed to apologise.

"Whilst the press have a right to publish information that is genuinely in the public interest, I have been concerned by the increasing number of articles that unjustifiably include confidential information about people's private lives. There has to be a limit to press intrusion and this case helps to draw that line. What I would say to the media is just leave me alone to get on with my job."

As a result of the article, Mr Paddick was transferred from his job as Commander of Lambeth, in south London, where he pioneered a lenient approach to cannabis. He was cleared of any disciplinary charges after an eight-month investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police Complaints Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority. Last month he was promoted to acting Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Paddick's lawyers, Bindman & Partners, estimated the overall cost of the case to The Mail on Sunday's owner, Associated Newspapers, at between £350,000 and £450,000, including the cost of its own lawyers. Mr Paddick would receive "substantial five-figure damages" from Associated as part of that cost.

His solicitor, Tamsin Allen, said: "This is a significant victory for Mr Paddick. It helps establish that individuals have an effective right to privacy under existing laws. It is hoped that Mr Paddick's private life can remain private from now on. He is very happy that he can enjoy Christmas without the prospect of being cross-examined by [The Mail on Sunday] lawyers. Their decision represents another nail in the coffin of cheque-book journalism."

In a statement, The Mail on Sunday said: "Mr Paddick is seriously mistaken if he believes that the settlement of his case establishes any law of privacy. On the contrary, while his initial action was brought under the existing law of confidentiality, the issue which accounts for the greater part of the damages related to three separate subsequent libel complaints."

¿ The Mail on Sunday yesterday agreed to pay undisclosed libel damages to Harrods' owner Mohamed al-Fayed after claiming in an article that some of his assets might have to be sold because of financial pressure. Lawyers for Mr Fayed told the High Court that the report in November 2002 made "serious and defamatory comments".