I’m not particularly a Man Utd fan, but I have to admit that they deserved to win the Premier League this year. Of their main rivals, Arsenal still can’t find the bottle to go with their undoubted skills, and Chelsea’s mid-season meltdown was entirely their own fault – and wasn’t helped by boardroom meddling. By contrast, Man U just kept going, kept winning and had the stamina and guts to bounce back when they did encounter a setback. The 19th title is in the bag, and Liverpool are off their perch. So kudos to the Red Devils, and good luck against Barcelona next week.
It’s a pity, therefore, that United’s achievements have been somewhat overshadowed by the football injunction row. Probably the most high profile case is that of a player who I can only identify as “CTB”, who took out an injunction to keep secret his affair with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas.
Now, I don’t know the details of what went on between them, and, to be honest, I don’t particularly want to. I’m not a fan of tabloid style journalism which thrives on celebrity gossip, and I do have a fair amount of sympathy with CTB for wanting to keep his name out of those papers. But there are some things about this case which I do find disturbing.
Reading the details which have been published so far, it seems that Miss Thomas was planning to sell a “kiss and tell” account of the relationship to the press. That much seems to be undisputed, and was the initial trigger for CTB to seek the injunction. But, beyond that, it all gets a little murky. Early reports, from the perspective of Miss Thomas, gave the impression that CTB was a “love rat” deliberately cheating on his wife over a period of several months. But the claims made in the injunction – and, seemingly, accepted by the judge, Mr Justice Eady – give a different picture. There, the impression is given of a gold-digger luring a rather naive celebrity into a brief relationship which she then sought to exploit, both by selling her story to the press and by extracting money from CTB himself. As Mr Justice Eady put it
It now seems that the Claimant may well have been “set up” so that photographs could be taken of Ms Thomas going to one or other, or both, of the hotels.
The evidence before the court at that point, therefore, appeared strongly to suggest that the Claimant was being blackmailed
If those accusations are true, then it does put an entirely different light on the matter. I think a lot of people would agree that people, even celebrities, should have the right to prevent the press printing an essentially contrived story about them. But also, if the accusations are true then CTB has been the victim of a serious crime. If that is the case, then that needs to be investigated properly by the police and anyone found to be involved needs to be brought to justice. But, on the other hand, if that isn’t an accurate account of what happened then CTB and his lawyers, aided and abetted by the judge, have perpetrated a very serious libel against Miss Thomas. At least, it would be libel if it were not for the fact that statements made in court are subject to absolute privilege.
This is where my sympathy for CTB wears thin. Irrespective of any other considerations, it seems to me to be an abuse of process to use the court as a vehicle for defaming someone else while at the same time making it impossible for her to defend herself in public. Wanting to prevent the gutter press printing her story, if indeed it is largely fictional, is reasonable. But it isn’t reasonable to combine that with hindering the investigation of a possible crime and exploiting a legal loophole to avoid a libel suit.
What makes it all the more ironic is that CTB seems to be blissfully unaware of the Streisand Effect. The attempts to hush it up have only served to propel both the affair itself, and speculation over his identity, further into the public mind. As many celebrities have found, coming clean and getting it over with almost always works out better in the long run – does anyone really care now about Wayne Rooney’s well-publicised dalliances with a prostitute last year?
I’m not expecting top-class footballers to be morally perfect. They are very rich, often not particularly intelligent – it doesn’t take brains to be a footballer, fortunately for some – and are an obvious target for those who would seek to exploit them. But someone, somewhere along the line, should have sat down with CTB and told him that using the courts to try to hide his infidelity was just plain stupid.