Ulrika and a rape allegation: how the worst-kept secret in entertainment slipped out on live TV

Robert Verkaik
Thursday 24 October 2002 00:00
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It was one of the worst-kept secrets in the world of entertainment. All week long, tabloid newspapers had scented their prey and were preparing to pounce.

But yesterday a showbus-iness pundit could wait no longer, and live on television, blurted out the name of the man whom Ulrika Jonsson had accused of raping her 14 years ago, when she was starting out as a TV-am weather girl.

Each day this week, reports analysing Ms Jonsson's allegation, first made in the serialisation of her autobiography in the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, went further and further towards revealing the identity of her alleged assailant.

One paper even printed his picture but disguised his connection with the story. Others, egged on by their rivals, named him variously as a "Scottish TV presenter", an "ITV celebrity" and a "daytime television star".

In a television interview on Friday Ms Jonsson refused to reply when she was asked by Jonathan Ross: "It was a presenter, wasn't it?"

The only obstacle that prevented the newspapers going the whole hog and publishing the man's name was the law of libel and the risk of having to pay huge damages after a court climbdown.

Yesterday Matthew Wright, a former Daily Mirror columnist, could restrain himself no longer. To the amazement of assembled guests and crew, he named the man live on his television show on Five.

The huge publicity that the case has attracted had already brought further complaints from a number of the man's former girlfriends, alleging improper sexual conduct. They have been advised by the PR consultant Max Clifford.

One woman is reported to have taken her allegation further and made an official complaint to the City of London Police. Yesterday a police spokeswoman declined to identify either of the parties, and would not comment on the prospect of criminal proceedings.

The London Evening Standard, the Daily Mail's sister paper, splashed his name across its front page yesterday, using the Five gaffe as justification. But many saw this as a ploy to boost interest in Ms Jonsson's autobiography, Honest, for which Associated Newspapers, owners of the Mail titles, is believed to have paid as much as £750,000.

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, suspects the decision to exploit the Five incident was based on "cynical and commercial" motives.

"It's certainly interesting that this story only started to gain any currency after people started to lose interest in the serialisation of Ms Jonsson's book," Mr Stephens said.

This all leaves the alleged rapist in a difficult position. Ms Jonsson has neither named him as her sex attacker nor indeed taken her complaint to the police. Last night, the man's employers said that he was "taking time out" for personal reasons and will not be presenting his show as scheduled.

"If he's done what is being alleged then he deserves to be castigated," said Mr Stephens, of the London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent. "But as it stands it's an unproveable allegation."

The accused man must now consider the merits of bringing a libel case to attempt to clear his name and was said to be consulting his lawyers. But he faces an uphill struggle.

Newspapers will argue that since Mr Wright's blunder the allegation against him is already in the public domain. The tabloid press, armed with complaints from the man's former sexual acquaintances, is unlikely to balk at having to defend the case in court.

Associated Newspapers might even relish the chance of eking out interest in its serialisation deal by playing a lead role in a salacious sex and celebrity libel trial.

But media lawyers argue that the newspapers will still have to prove the truth of the allegations – and that they acted in the public interest.

Rod Dadak, the lawyer who represented the Downing Street cook Clare Latimer in her libel claim against the New Statesman, says the named man is in a "no-win" situation.

"That case [Clare Latimer] was all about repeating rumours, and there is no difference here.

"There has been so much prejudice that it's difficult to see how he would get a fair trial."

Yesterday Ms Jonsson, who was promoting her book with an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Midweek programme, tried to distance herself from the mess.

In a statement issued through her solicitors, she said she had never named her assailant nor had she ever had any intention of doing so. It added: "Furthermore, she has never provided details from which he could be identified. That remains her position."

Later it emerged that Ms Jonsson is already fighting a separate legal action arising out of her book and is keen to extricate herself from this one. Her case is against another one of her other former boyfriends, the footballer Stan Collymore, who has been hawking a video around Fleet Street which purports to feature the couple having sex.

Its existence became known after the screening of Ms Jonsson's Channel 4 documentary, The Trouble with Men, which included a number of candid confessions about her relation- ships with boyfriends, including the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson. The programme also referred to an incident in which Mr Collymore is alleged to have struck Ms Jonsson while they were drinking in a Paris bar during the 1998 World Cup. She describes Mr Collymore as a "monster" in her book.

Yesterday Ms Jonsson was granted an injunction to stop Mr Collymore from selling any video footage, stills or photographs which show Ms Jonsson naked or engaging in any kind of sexual activity.

The footballer has also been ordered to hand over any such material to Ms Jonsson's lawyers, the London-based media lawyers Schillings. The legal action follows a report in the News of the World that Mr Collymore's lawyer, Jonathan Crystal, was offering an explicit sex video of her for sale. The video was said to have been made when the couple were on holiday in Jamaica.

"Stan has always kept the tape back as his get-out-of-jail card," Mr Crystal is reported to have told the News of the World. For once the newspaper declined to take the bait.

But Ms Jonsson will be back in court on Monday when she will seek to extend the injunction. The case and the story continue.

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