Palace wins gag against 'Mirror' over royal footman

Robert Verkaik
Friday 21 November 2003 01:00

The Queen won a court order last night stopping the Daily Mirror publishing further damaging revelations about life in the Royal Household.

A High Court judge agreed to a temporary injunction against the newspaper after lawyers instructed by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, argued that the newspaper and its reporter, who was employed as a footman, had breached the confidence of the Royal Family.

Mr Justice Lewison granted the injunction until 4.30pm on Monday, when there will be a full hearing of the case, which he said the Queen had "a real prospect" of winning.

He expressly rejected the newspaper's argument that the material it was publishing was already in the public domain through books written by people such as Paul Burrell, a former royal butler.

The judge made his decision under "well established" contract law and said contractual rights could be an exception to the principle of freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act.

David Pannick QC told the court that the Queen was seeking an injunction because of the "flagrant breach" of a contractual obligation to maintain confidentiality. He said the breach by Ryan Parry, who was employed as a footman for two months from September, had resulted in "obvious and unjustified intrusions" into the private life of the Queen and other members of the Royal Household.

The Queen, who cannot bring proceedings in her own court, instructed Lord Goldsmith to ask the judge to prevent further intrusions into the daily lives of the Royal Family. That move is a rare legal procedure, last used in 1990 against another servant.

Photographs published yesterday and on Wednesday showed the private living quarters of senior members of the Royal Family, including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. One pictured the Queen's breakfast table shortly after it had been set by palace servants while another was of the Duke of York's bachelor apartment. Mr Parry also gave a detailed account of how the Queen, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and the Countess of Wessex behaved towards their staff.

Mr Pannick told the judge that these kind of details had nothing to do with highlighting concerns over the security of the Royal Family, as the newspaper claimed.

The barrister said the Mirror had refused to give an undertaking not to publish further material, arguing that publication was in the public interest in exposing the "most shambolic security situation at Buckingham Palace".

But Richard Spearman QC, for the Mirror, said that it was "idle and fanciful" to try to obtain an order preventing Mr Parry from disclosing material of a similar kind to that revealed by other royal employees. He said that some material identified by Mr Pannick was already in the public domain, such as that contained in Mr Burrell's recent book. He said that there was a clear public interest in publishing the information.

But Mr Pannick said publication was the "plainest possible breach of confidence and the plainest possible intrusion into personal privacy". The Daily Mirror's claim to be exposing breaches of security was "cynical in the extreme. If that is the concern of the Daily Mirror it could have and should have informed the Home Secretary, Metropolitan Police, Attorney General or any of the authorities," he said.

Mr Pannick insisted that Mr Parry, in keeping with other palace servants, had signed an explicit confidentiality agreement. He said it was an undertaking not to reveal to any unauthorised person "any information whatsoever whether of an official or personal nature" concerning any member of the Royal Family or Royal Household, unless authorised to do so.

It was "a very clear agreement, the purpose of which is to prevent those in royal service from communicating to third parties what they have learnt". He added: "In any event, much of the information published so far consists of photographs and details which intrude into the personal privacy of the Royal Family and which breach contractual undertakings in a manner wholly unnecessary to identify security breaches." He said that if the Daily Mirror was to be taken at its word, then it had already published enough information to highlight the security problem.

Piers Morgan, the paper's editor, said: "The fact is that the Daily Mirror, by common consent, has exposed the most serious security breach ever involving the Royal Family. We have acted at all times in the public interest and have been completely open about the subterfuge we deployed, and why we deployed it.

"Terrorists are not renowned for their honesty in filling in application forms for jobs like this. I hope that over time the Royal Household will realise that Ryan Parry has done them a massive favour in highlighting this devastating lapse in their security system."