The model, the 'Mirror' and a win that spells privacy law

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The Independent Online

Yesterday should have been a normal day in the life of a supermodel for Naomi Campbell. Her sole engagement was a routine press conference in Rome to unveil a new tyre and her trademark pout for Pirelli.

Yesterday should have been a normal day in the life of a supermodel for Naomi Campbell. Her sole engagement was a routine press conference in Rome to unveil a new tyre and her trademark pout for Pirelli.

Instead, the 33-year-old diva from Streatham, south London, found herself ushering in what some have hailed as Britain's first privacy law by scoring an important victory in her three-year legal battle with The Mirror, now the Daily Mirror. The House of Lords ruled that the newspaper had invaded the model's privacy when it published a story on 1 February, 2001 debunking her denial of a cocaine addiction by revealing her visits to Narcotics Anonymous in King's Road, Chelsea.

In a majority ruling, a panel of law lords found that Ms Campbell - described by a judge as a "prima donna celebrity" - had a right to attend her therapy sessions without the details appearing in a "celebrity-exploiting tabloid". Lord Hope, one of the judges, said: "Despite the weight that must be given to the right to freedom of expression the press needs if it is play its role effectively, I would hold that there was here an infringement of Miss Campbell's right to privacy that cannot be justified."

The judgment was held up by lawyers and senior media figures as creating a de-facto privacy law by allowing celebrities to claim that the publication of information which the media knows to be private or confidential - such as medical treatment or employment records - would infringe their human right to a private life.

Critics said the precedent represented a blow to press freedom after the judges ruled, by a majority of three to two, that the publication of a photograph of Ms Campbell leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting on 30 January 2001 to prove The Mirror's story was an invasion of her privacy. Leading the criticism was Piers Morgan, the embattled editor of the Daily Mirror.

After a week of bruising allegations about his judgement over the publication of graphic images of alleged torture of an Iraqi prisoner, Mr Morgan insisted his paper had been right to print its story, headlined "Naomi: I am a drug addict".

Mr Morgan said: "This is a very good day for lying, drug-abusing prima donnas who want to have their cake with the media and the right to then shamelessly guzzle it with their Cristal champagne.

"If ever there was a less deserving case for creating what is, in effect, a back-door privacy law it would be Ms Campbell. But that's showbiz."

On a day in which the Daily Mirror found itself under scrutiny from several angles, it was not all bad news for Mr Morgan. A Security Commission report highlighted the paper's scoop by placing a reporter as a footman inside Buckingham Palace and the editor received a vote of confidence from senior executives over the pictures of alleged abuse by British soldiers.

But The House of Lords judgment, which left the Daily Mirror facing a legal bill estimated at between £500,000 and £1m, was the latest twist in a legal saga with all the swagger and barely-concealed petulance of a Milan fashion show.

During the original High Court hearing two years ago, Ms Campbell was forced to admit in the witness box that she had been a drug addict since 1997 and that and she had a reputation for throwing tantrums.

For her part, the fashion idol said the front-page article, which included quotes gathered by a reporter posing as a fellow recovering addict, had left her feeling "shocked, angry, betrayed and violated".

In his judgment from that case, Mr Justice Morland found Ms Campbell had perjured herself by insisting that her emergency admission to a Spanish hospital in 1997 was the result of an allergy to antibiotics. She had, in fact, taken an overdose of sleeping pills. But the judge ruled in the model's favour and awarded her damages of £3,500, saying that, despite her track record, she was still entitled to "some space of privacy".

The Court of Appeal later overturned that ruling, saying The Mirror had been right to expose Ms Campbell dishonesty. But yesterday's judgment made it clear that the law lords believed Mr Justice Morland was correct in the first place.

Ms Campbell said she was delighted with the ruling: "This has been a huge strain and now I can get on with my life."