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Harassment and injunctions: Cheryl Cole – Natalie Peck

Last month injunction notices were fixed to lampposts outside Cheryl Cole’s former home in North London. Mr Justice Eady granted the interim injunction, referring to ‘XYZ and others’, preventing the pop star from being pursued, placed under surveillance, or photographed at her own home or those of friends and family. Cole was represented by Russells Solicitors and her application was heard in private.

A photographer working for the Daily Star sent in pictures of the injunction notice, which were then posted on Twitter. The Daily Star Sunday ran a story on the injunction, referring to it as a ‘crackpot’ order and stating:

Cole has taken out a bizarre High Court injunction threatening anyone who takes her photo with jail.

 Media lawyer Ambi Sitham backed the paper’s approach, saying that the ruling was ‘pretty much the first of its kind’. She said:

What it means is her loyal fans who may be camping out to see if she is OK after the US X Factor fiasco and may snap a quick photo may also be caught out by the terms of the order.

This is a hugely significant injunction as it is likely many other celebrities will in applying for similar orders.

It is likely to come under much criticism as the general public will find it very odd that a celebrity will be happily posing for a photo at an event, and indeed will want their photo taken, yet someone can go to jail for taking a paparazzi of them.

Although the Daily Star and Ms Sitham are keen to point out that it could be loyal fans of Cole who fall foul of the law, the terms of the injunction, though wide-ranging, are in fact standard practice for curbing harassing behaviour of paparazzi photographers, and not that of the general public.

In accordance with the Harassment Act 1997, ‘defendants’ must not:

(a) pursue or follow the Claimant, whether by car, van, motorcycle, or by any howsoever; or

(b) place the Claimant under surveillance; or

(c) approach within 100 metres of the curtilage of the Claimant’s home; or

(d) take pictures of the Claimant:

(i) in her home or the home of any members of her family or friends, or when she is in the garden or grounds of the said homes; or

(ii) in office blocks or buildings not open to the general public; or

(iii) when she is entering or leaving her home, the home of any members of her family or friends, or when she is in the garden or grounds of the said homes (also known as “door-stepping”); or

(iv) when she is being followed or pursued by photographers; or

 (e) otherwise harass or intimidate the Claimant.

In 2009, singers Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse both took out similar injunctions. Allen’s referred to the Big Pictures and Matrix photo agencies and an individual photographer, with a further injunction secured also ‘restraining further harassment’ by other paparazzi photographers.  Winehouse was granted an injunction preventing Big Pictures and ‘persons unknown’ – individuals seeking to photograph the musician outside her home and in other public places if they have pursued her – from harassing her.

In the same year, Sienna Miller was also granted an undertaking that Big Pictures would not pursue her or doorstep her at home or at the home of her family or friends. She was awarded £37,000 in damages and costs to settle the claim.

The surveillance aspects to these orders follow the precedent set in Howlett v Holding [2006] EWHC 41 (QB) where Eady J stated:

Holding has revealed that he has had Mrs Howlett watched at various times and wishes to retain his right to do so, whatever anxiety and distress that may cause her [16].

In the light of this case, and indeed others such as P G & J H v United Kingdom (Application 44787/98) and Peck v United Kingdom 44647/98 [2003] ECHR 44 (2003) 36 EHRR 41, it may safely now be said that it is not possible for those who wish to intrude upon the lives of individuals through surveillance, and associated photography, to rely upon a rigid distinction being drawn in their favour what takes place in private and activities capable of being witnessed a public place by other people [26]. 

It is highly unlikely that an unwitting fan hoping for a quick snap would resort to surveillance, persistent pursuit or door-stepping. It seems then that far from a being a ‘hugely significant’ injunction, the action taken by Cole follows on from a line of similar orders restraining the activities of paparazzi photographers that amount to harassment under the law. 

Natalie Peck is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University London. She is @nataliepeck on Twitter.

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