If you feel that your private information has been misused by the media, you may be entitled to compensation and should consult a lawyer straight away. A businessman who did just that after leaked details of a criminal investigation concerning him found their way into the press was awarded substantial damages.
The businessman was a leading light in a company that was the focus of an inquiry by a UK law enforcement body into allegations of international fraud and corruption. The body sent a 15-page letter to a foreign state, requesting mutual legal assistance, which was leaked to a media organisation.
The source of the leak was unknown, but the letter formed the basis of an article in which the investigation was described in detail and the businessman was identified as a suspect. He was outraged by the publication, which had a serious impact on his professional and private life. He launched proceedings against the media organisation, alleging misuse of private information.
In ruling on the matter, the High Court noted that the letter was headed by the word ‘confidential’ in block capitals. Although journalists had sought a response from the businessman prior to publication, the media organisation had simply failed to appreciate the highly confidential nature of the letter and that the businessman’s entitlement to privacy was potentially engaged.
In considering the media organisation’s freedom of expression rights, the Court noted that the issue of overseas corruption, and the suspected involvement in the same of the businessman and the company for which he worked, were matters of high public interest. However, the businessman, who had not been charged with any offence, had an expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private. In those circumstances, the publication was neither justified nor proportionate.
The Court noted the clear public policy that the media should refrain from identifying suspects in criminal investigations before they are charged. The publication risked causing unfair damage to the businessman’s reputation and had the potential to harm the public interest in effective law enforcement. The Court issued an injunction against the media organisation, restraining any further similar publication, and awarded the businessman £25,000 in damages.