Week of allegations and injunctions that shook Royal Family

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The Independent Online

Saturday 1 November

A single telephone call to the editor's office of The Mail on Sunday around 10.15am that set in train the momentous events played out in the Royal Courts of Justice this week.

Solicitors instructed by Michael Fawcett contacted the paper to put it on notice that it was seeking an injunction to stop publication of a 3,000-word interview with another former servant, George Smith.

By 11.50am two teams of lawyers had assembled in court 27 to put their cases before Mr Justice McKinnon, the judge hearing emergency applications for weekend injunctions.

Mr Fawcett, who attended the hearing, is understood to have asked Desmond Browne QC to argue that there would be serious damage to his reputation and family life if the article was published. The Mail on Sunday instructed the libel expert Richard Rampton QC to block the application.

After three hours of legal argument the judge ruled in favour of the servant but gave permission for the newspaper to return to court. The paper said the order was immediately followed by a written demand from Prince Charles's office that there should be no publication of the story.

The Mail on Sunday held over its interview with Mr Smith but used its front page to explain to their readers what had happened.

Yesterday, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said that such injunctions should only be granted in very rare circumstances. He told Radio 4 they would only be granted when a "very good case is made out for holding the ring".

He said these kind of orders were "generally undesirable" because they conflicted with rights of freedom of expression.

The PR adviser Max Clifford said it was often very difficult even to get a court to hear an emergency application for an injunction over the weekend.


The Guardian joined the legal action by attempting to exploit a loophole in the terms of the injunction.

Its lawyers believed they could identify Mr Fawcett as the claimant who had secured the injunction against The Mail on Sunday and declared their intention to name him. Mr Fawcett's lawyers went back to court to halt the latest attempt to place his name in the public domain.

On Monday evening another judge, Mr Justice Henriques, in a telephone application, imposed an interim injunction, this time preventingThe Guardian from naming the original claimant.


Lawyers for The Guardian went to the High Court to try to persuade a third judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, that the injunction against the newspaper should not be extended.

This time journalists from other newspapers, who had been alerted to the hearing, packed court 14 to report the case. But Mr Browne's first application was to have the hearing heard in private and immediately called for the court to be emptied.

Reluctantly, Mr Justice Tugendhat agreed but not before he had said the case raised issues of freedom of expression that touched on the public interest.

The arguments continued in camera into the afternoon and resumed the day after.


Behind-the-scenes negotiations between The Guardian and Mr Fawcett's lawyers led to an agreed settlement that was confirmed in court shortly after 3pm on Thursday afternoon.

The Guardian said it had no intention of publishing any details of the allegation and on that basis Mr Browne said he was content to withdraw his application to prevent the newspaper naming Mr Fawcett.

Almost immediately lawyers for The Mail on Sunday told the judge they wished to make a "contingent application" that would also allow them to name Mr Fawcett.

But as the proceedings closed on Thursday afternoon it was unclear what the court had agreed or whether The Mail on Sunday had done enough to vary the terms of the injunction to allow it to publish parts of its proposed original article.


The Mail on Sunday said last night it was considering whether to return to court to pursue the case.