Twist in the tale of super-injunctions: judge says footballer 'was blackmail victim'

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The Independent Online

A former Big Brother contestant yesterday failed in an attempt to overturn a gagging order covering her alleged affair with a married Premiership footballer after a judge ruled she may have been trying to blackmail the star with demands for a signed shirt, match tickets and up to £100,000.

Imogen Thomas, 28, said she was "stunned" by the findings of Mr Justice Eady as he threw out a bid by her lawyers and The Sun newspaper to lift the privacy injunction banning publicity about the claimed relationship. The ruling could have far-reaching implications for "kiss and tell" stories after the High Court heard their publication was not in the public interest.

In an eight-page judgment, Mr Justice Eady, some of whose rulings in recent years have been criticised for helping to foist a privacy law on England and Wales, said there was "ample reason not to trust" Ms Thomas on the basis of evidence which suggested she was seeking a six-figure pay-off from her alleged former lover.

The glamour model was accused by the footballer of contacting him by texts and phone calls in March and April this year in an attempt to persuade him to hand over an autographed football shirt, tickets and a payment of £50,000 in return for not selling her story of their claimed six-month relationship. She strongly denied the allegations.

The judge, who underlined he was making his findings on preliminary evidence and had made no decision as to its truthfulness, said it nonetheless "appeared to strongly suggest that the [footballer] was being blackmailed (although that is not how he put it himself)".

Outlining two meetings last month between Ms Thomas and the player at hotels where he was staying, Mr Justice Eady said the player had attended the first reluctantly, eventually handing over the signed shirt before telling her he was not prepared to meet her demand that she "needed" £50,000.

At the second meeting a few days later, an unspecified number of tickets were handed over. The judge said it seemed the player, who has a family, had been "set up" by Ms Thomas so photographs could be taken at either one or both of the hotels.

On 12 April, the player, who claims to have met Ms Thomas on three occasions between September and December last year, sent her a text severing all contact. Mr Justice Eady continued: "Then, in something of a quandry, he thought better of it and sent her a further message... This was to convey to her that he might be willing to pay some money after all. By this time, however, she made it clear that she was looking for £100,000."

Renewing the order granting the player anonymity, the judge said the circumstances of his case meant he had a "reasonable expectation" of privacy and there was "no suggestion of any legitimate public interest" in publishing the story.

Ms Thomas denied asking her claimed lover for money or being behind a story in The Sun about the alleged affair. She said: "Yet again, my name and my reputation are being trashed while the man I had a relationship with is able to hide. What's more, I can't even defend myself because I've been gagged. Where's the fairness in this?"