“The cases of Vanessa Perroncel and John Terry – a curious legal affair” – Dominic Crossley

9 10 2010

As Roy Greenslade’s recent blog highlighted, last Sunday 3 October the News of the World published the following with regard to Vanessa  Perroncel (together with a photograph of her looking wonderfully defiant):

“On January 31 and afterwards we published some personal information about Vanessa Perroncel in articles concerning an alleged affair with the footballer John Terry.

Miss Perroncel has since informed us that she would have preferred her personal information to remain private and it was untrue in any case. We apologise to Miss Perroncel for any distress caused”.

The Mail on Sunday published an identical apology in July.  Both apologies, one must assume, mark the completion of a successful legal action Perroncel pursued against both newspaper’s publishers arising from their publications of information and images arising from the John Terry scandal that dominated the tabloids in early 2010.

Perroncel must be applauded for her success, having emerged from an extraordinarily aggressive media assault to give her powerful account of what happened by way of interviews in the Guardian newspaper she has now secured these apologies and one would hope a substantial financial settlement.   In her interviews with the Guardian she was clear in her denials of an affair with Terry.  Her denials were met with scepticism at the time but following the newspaper apologies there should be no room for doubt.

What is particularly striking is how this outcome appears to conflict with the cautionary tale that is the judgment in the injunction application of John Terry (LNS v Persons Unknown [2010] EWHC 119 (QB)) and in particular the references to the relationship.  By way of example, paragraph 7 of the judgment Mr Justice Tugendhat begins as follows:

The applicant [Terry] accepts the truth of certain information which is sought to be protected by the draft order. I do not know whether or not LNS [Terry] considers that those matters were acceptable for a person in LNS’s position in life”.

At the time, it was difficult to conclude from this anything other than Terry accepted to the Court that the information he wanted protecting was the fact of an affair.   Of course, Tugendhat refused the application to the acclaim of the newspapers and in particular they lauded an indication of a return to morality considerations into privacy judgments (which were taken to be aimed squarely at Terry’s alleged infidelity):

“There is much public debate as to what conduct is or is not socially harmful.  Not all conduct that is socially harmful is unlawful, and there is often said to be much inconsistency in the law. For example, some commentators contrast the law on consumption of alcohol with that of other intoxicating substances.  The fact that conduct is private and lawful is not, of itself, conclusive of the question whether or not it is in the public interest that it be discouraged.  There is no suggestion that the conduct in question in the present case ought to be unlawful, or that any editor would suggest that it should be.  But in a plural society there will be some who would suggest that it ought to be discouraged.  That is why sponsors may be sensitive to the public image of those sportspersons whom they pay to promote their products.  Freedom to live as one chooses is one of the most valuable freedoms.  But so is the freedom to criticise (within the limits of the law) the conduct of other members of society as being socially harmful, or wrong.”

Was this discouragement misplaced? If we are now to take the two offending newspapers’ apologies at face value, they now accept that there was no affair between Terry and Perroncel.  The question has to be asked, why on earth would Terry volunteer the existence of the affair to Tugendhat (if indeed he did) if Perroncel was able to (admittedly much later) persuade the newspapers that no such affair took place?  Why has Terry never, to my knowledge, publicly denied the affair?

Whatever the truth is behind the inconsistencies, Terry’s doomed application and media strategy is being shown in an ever less flattering light.  It was not just the scorn that followed the reports that he had been unfaithful to his wife, with his pal’s girlfriend, it was the fact that he had tried and failed to get an injunction that increased the level of the wrath.  His application has served as a warning to others considering kiss n’ tell injunctions (possibly even Wayne Rooney) that if you take the newspapers on and fail you can expect double the trouble.  His application is held up as the example of the lure of the malevolent super injunction.

What we are to make of it all now?  I’m with Perroncel – but I’ve always been a sucker for that defiant look…

Dominic Crossley, Collyer Bristow LLP


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