England football captain John Terry yesterday lost his legal battle to keep allegations about his private life secret after a judge ruled that his claim for a gagging order had more to do with protecting lucrative sponsorship deals than his family's privacy.
In a spectacular own goal the Chelsea star not only failed to stop the publication of salacious claims concerning a relationship with a former team-mate's girlfriend but also has to pay £20,000 legal costs to a Sunday newspaper.
Although the judge in the case did not identity any of the parties it was reported yesterday that the woman at the centre of the affair was the French model Vanessa Perroncel, the former long-term girlfriend of footballer Wayne Bridge, who now plays for Manchester City.
The scandal is the latest of a spate of misadventures to befall Terry and raises serious questions about the future of his England captaincy at this summer's World Cup finals in South Africa.
The judge's comments will have also added to his woes. Mr Justice Michael Tugendhat, who heard the case in private at the High Court, said that he thought the "nub" of the footballer's legal complaint was more likely to be the protection of his lucrative financial arrangements.
In a judgment warmly welcomed by the media and free speech campaigners, he criticised "routine" requests for so-called super injunctions – which prevent newspapers from even reporting that a secrecy order has been made, let alone what it covers – which Terry's lawyers had requested in this case.
John Terry, 29, married childhood sweetheart Toni Poole in 2007 and is the father of twins. Last year he was alleged to have profited from hosting businessmen on private tours of Chelsea's training ground in Surrey. The club denied Terry made any money from it. He was also professionally embarrassed when a company sent an email brazenly touting the England captain for potential sponsorship deals. He said the company had sent the email without his consent.
The court was told that Terry first heard rumours about his private life were circulating on the evening of Wednesday 20 January when he was contacted by a well-known football figure. He was told that a journalist had heard rumours of the affair with Ms Perroncel. By Thursday Terry was informed that the News of the World "were all over" the story and intended to publish it on Sunday.
In a statement submitted to the court Terry said that he had not told one of the "interested persons" in the case, believed to be his wife, about the relationship. He asked the judge that this should be taken into consideration when assessing the rights of his family to a private life under the Human Rights Act.
But Mr Tugendhat rejected the footballer's contention that this meant she did not know about the affair. "I do not find it credible that rumours that have circulated as widely as the rumours in this case are said to have circulated have not yet reached the ears of at least the first interested person. If they have not yet got that far, they surely will do very soon," the judge said.
He said the principle of open justice could be traced to before the Magna Carta but lawyers acting for celebrities were "under the impression" that their clients' private lives deserved to be protected by secret injunctions.
But he described John Terry, who was referred to as LNS in Mr Tugendhat's judgment, as a "very robust personality" whose real concern was "any adverse publicity on the business of his earning potential".
The judge said: "There is no suggestion that the conduct in question in the present case ought to be unlawful or that any editor would ever suggest that it should be. But in a plural society there would be some who would suggest that it ought to be discouraged. That is why sponsors may be sensitive to the public image of these sportspersons whom they pay to promote their products."
He also questioned the motivation for a confidentiality agreement signed between John Terry and Ms Perroncel for which she was paid £1, a deal which made it a legally binding document.
In it she said: "As a result of my dealings with you (Terry) there has been speculation about a relationship with you. Whilst I do not make any admission as to the truth or otherwise of such speculation I do not want such information to be disclosed."
In lifting the original order, which had been secretly granted last Friday, the judge said because the information had become so widely available to so many people, it meant that an injunction was less necessary or proportionate than would otherwise be the case.
"Further, if – as I think likely – the real concern of the applicant in this case is the effect of publication upon the sponsorship business, then damages would be an adequate remedy if LNS succeeds at trial," the judge said.
John Terry: Success and scandal
*John Terry's glittering career on the field – captain of England and Chelsea, Premier League and FA Cup winner – has gone hand-in-hand with a succession of damaging scandals surrounding him and his family off it, writes Robin Scott-Elliot.
In 2001 he was fined by Chelsea after being accused, along with three team-mates, of mocking American tourists in the wake of 9/11 while drunk in a Heathrow hotel. The following year the Football Association refused to consider him for selection for the World Cup finals as he was awaiting trial on a charge of affray, for which he was found not guilty. Following those incidents he made a conscious effort to improve his behaviour. "Discipline in your behaviour is as vital as it is on the pitch, I've learnt that the hard way," he said in an interview four years ago.
In March 2008 he was fined £60 for parking in a disabled bay while visiting a Pizza Express in Esher, Surrey. Last year his mother, Sue, and mother-in-law were cautioned for shoplifting, while his father, Ted, was filmed by the News of the World allegedly offering cocaine to a reporter in November 2009.
Terry's reputation was also marred last year when an email sent by a marketing company, Riviera Entertainment, effectively touting the England captain's services ahead of this summer's World Cup finals was made public. That was followed in December by another NotW story claiming Terry and Tony Bruce, a known ticket tout, were offering tours of Chelsea's ground allegedly for cash.Reuse content