Privacy – the latest twist: Naomi Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers

Naomi Campbell has won her latest battle to protect her privacy. She has won her action against The Mirror over its report that she was attending meetings with Narcotics Anonymous to beat her addiction to drugs, an addiction which she had previously publicly denied. The core issue before the court was whether the publication at issue ‘was legitimate in that the public interest in favour of publication outweighed any public interest in the protection’ of Naomi Campbell’s rights of confidentiality.

The Mirror contended that Naomi Campbell had not only placed her own private life in the public domain, she had falsely denied abusing drugs and had thereby misled the public. As Mr Justice Morland put it, ‘The essential question is whether even if a public figure … such as Miss Naomi Campbell courts and expects media exposure, she is left with a residual area of privacy which the court should protect if its revelation would amount to a breach of confidentiality.’

The judge identified three elements which Naomi Campbell needed to establish. The first was that the publication had ‘the necessary quality of confidence’. He concluded that where discreet therapy is being sought, such as was the case here, that had ‘the mark of confidentiality’. He concluded that the second element, that the information was imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence, was also established because whoever was the source of the story bore an obligation of confidence concerning the information. He determined that the third element, that the publication was to Naomi Campbell’s detriment, was also present because the publication was likely to affect adversely her attendance in the therapy meetings.

The judge said the public had a need to know that Naomi Campbell had been misleading them by denying drug addiction, and therefore it was appropriate for them to be told that she was being treated for that addiction. However, the newspaper was not entitled to publish such details as her attendance at Narcotics Anonymous, for which she was awarded compensatory damages of £2,500.

Naomi Campbell also successful in her claim for aggravated damages. The judge referred to a vitriolic response by The Mirror to her legal proceedings, and said of one article in particular that not only did it criticise the merits of her claim, but it also ‘trashed her as a person in a highly offensive and hurtful manner. That trashing entitles her to aggravated damages.’ He awarded an additional £1,000.

These damages were awarded both for breach of confidence and for what the judge found also to be a contravention by The Mirror of the First Data Protection Principle under the Data Protection Act 1998. The information concerning the Narcotics Anonymous therapy, including photographs with captions, was information as to Naomi Campbell’s physical or mental health or condition (her drug addiction) and therefore ‘sensitive personal data’.

This judgment puts in place another piece of the ill-fitting jigsaw which is the slowly developing law of confidence/privacy. We still do not see the whole picture, but the inherent conflict between the Article 8 right of privacy and the Article 10 right of free speech inevitably means that the courts are having to determine these issues on a case by case basis. The difficulty is that first instance judges and the Court of Appeal will often see the answer differently, making the privacy jurisdiction difficult to advise on and potentially expensive for claimants and defendants alike.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.