The public interest defence for publishing details of Sir Fred Goodwin's love life is clear cut. This is a man who presided over one of Britain's biggest ever corporate collapses. Moreover, the ruin of Royal Bank of Scotland did not affect only its staff and shareholders, but everyone else in the country.
The direct cost of bailing the bank out two-and-a-half years ago was several hundred pounds for every man, woman and child in Britain. The indirect costs of the financial crisis, in which RBS played a big part, are incalculable. So the public is entitled to a full account of all of the factors that may have contributed to this disaster. It does not seem in the least bit unreasonable to regard the fact that RBS's chief executive might have been engaging in an extra-marital affair in the run-up to the bank's collapse as one of those contributory factors. All the more so since Sir Fred's alleged lover was a senior colleague at RBS.
The bank had rules requiring staff to declare that sort of relationship if there was a possibility of a conflict of opinion – if its chief executive broke those rules, what does that say about the standards of corporate governance at the top of RBS? Or the decision to let him leave with a full pension, for that matter? This is not to say that we need to hear all the prurient details, but having picked up the tab for saving the bank he ran, we deserve to be given a warts-and-all account of how that came to pass. And sleazy though it may be, the question of whether RBS's boss was too busy bonking to pay sufficient attention to the balance sheet is one of genuine public interest.