Thursday 21 November 2019

Long arm of the law has become ultimate passion killer

Richard Sadlier

W hile living in the UK after I retired, I began seeing a girl who had previously been featured in a kiss-and-tell story involving a top player at the time. She told me how it came about and explained the background. It wasn't at all how I thought these things were done.

A third party had approached a paper and gave information about where they were next due to meet and gave details of what they knew about the relationship to that point. The paper then contacted the girl and explained what they were going to write. It was very embarrassing stuff and very explicit, but not all of it was completely true.

The only way they agreed to back down was if she agreed to pose for a photo on her own and speak on the record about what went on between them. They offered to pay her £3,000 for her version. She felt she was in a lose-lose position but thought the only way to control the story in any way was to give her own, accurate account. It was obviously blackmail, but she felt she had little option.

Former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas had an affair with a married footballer recently, and it appears there was blackmail involved here too. The judge who granted a super injunction to the footballer to stop the story being reported said he believed she had used the threat of going public with their affair in an attempt to get £100,000 from him.

She would have had no leverage without the backing of the newspaper involved, but her efforts were unsuccessful. She managed to get a signed shirt and an undisclosed amount of match tickets from the player, but he refused all demands for cash.

Her earnings have obviously been hit as a result of the court ruling, but she didn't give up there. She has since been on chat shows bemoaning the two-tier system of privacy rights which she claims separate the wealthy from the rest of us. Who she slept with can be found online, but nobody on Twitter is going to pay her for her story.

In any case, the judge said she probably profited from dealings with three British papers which reported the story without naming the player involved. It does not appear as if privacy was her main concern throughout.

Newspapers continue to campaign against a particular interpretation of the law which enables public figures to keep their embarrassing personal stories away from public consumption, but in this case it is hard to argue with the ruling when you consider what actually went on.

Media outlets have an understandable desire to publish such stories because the appetite to read them turns quite a profit, but instead they insist it's based on a duty to expose cheating and hypocrisy wherever it may be. Women in these cases often claim a responsibility to do likewise, but their motives are often mercenary, career-driven or retaliatory.

The men involved often highlight their family's right not to be embarrassed in this way, but it's surely nothing more than a desperate attempt at damage limitation in an effort to avoid the grief which would inevitably follow.

The market for information about the sex lives of the rich and famous is well established by now. There may be a fine line between what the public are interested in

knowing and what is in the public's interest to know. I'm not yet sold on our right to learn the explicit details of the affairs, extra-marital or otherwise, of any one of them, but it doesn't mean I wouldn't be any less interested in reading them. Many are entertained when they read of how well endowed a top footballer is, how long he lasts in bed, the positions he prefers or how good he was, but to quote the judge in the Imogen Thomas case -- "there is certainly no suggestion of any legitimate public interest in publishing such material".

If solicitors continue to convince the judiciary to interpret the Human Rights Act in a manner that serves their clients' needs in this way, the marketplace for kiss-and-tell stories involving footballers could close down for good. I hope they have thought it through though. Reducing the rewards for bedding a player may decrease the demand to do so. I'm not sure it's in anyone's interest for that to happen.

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