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Case Law: Ting Lan Hong v Persons Unknown – Hugh Grant, a baby and the paparazzi

On 11 November 2011, Mr Justice Tugendhat granted an injunction to prohibit the harassment of actress Ting Lan Hong and her baby, the daughter of the actor Hugh Grant, by paparazzi photographers.  On 18 November 2011 he handed down a judgment giving his reasons ([2011] EWHC 2995 (QB)). 

The injunction was granted under the Prevention from Harassment Act 1997 against “Person or Persons Responsible for taking Photographs of the Claimants outside their home and in the Street during November 2011”.

The factual background set out in the judgment reminds us that despite the efforts of the PCC – and the press being on “best behaviour” during the Leveson Inquiry – press harassment is not a thing of the past.   Ms Hong was followed and photographed without her knowledge in January 2011.  The “News of the World” published a photograph on 24 April 2011 – two days after Mr Grant had been told that his telephone had been hacked.  Ms Hong was subsequently followed and photographed without consent.

In July 2011, after Mr Grant appeared on Question Time talking about phone hacking Ms Hong received telephone calls of an abusive nature.  Ultimately she changed her mobile number.  In November 2011 the “Daily Mail” published stories about Mr Grant and Ms Hong having had a daughter.  After that the harassment and intimidation reached what were plainly unbearable levels:

“On some afternoons in the last few days there have been ten or more people outside her house. On some evenings they have not left, but stayed all night, including when it was raining. She and her neighbours have been kept up by the flashing of cameras” [11].

A number of incidents of harassment and intimidation are described in the judgment.   Although the PCC circulated a warning to editors, a number of photographers persisted in their activities.

In the circumstances, the judge decided that it was “necessary and proportionate” to grant the injunction sought.

Comment

The harassment of individuals in the news by “paparazzi photographers” is a longstanding problem which, as this judgment illustrates, has not been solved by the PCC’s “24 hour anti-harassment service“.  Although many newspapers promised to stop using paparazzi photographs after the death of Princess Diana, in practice the tabolid newspapers have largely continued as before.  The victims tend to be young women who are relentlessly pursued – often on cars and motorbikes by packs of photographers.

Many are freelance and therefore cannot, strictly speaking, be ordered to stop by the press.   The only effective remedy in such situations is an “anti-harassment” injunction directed at “persons unknown” and designed to cover all the photographers pursuing a particular individual.  One was obtained earlier in the year by singer Cheryl Cole – following precedents set by Sienna Miller and Lily Allen.

A particularly disturbing aspect of this case is the suggestion that Hugh Grant is being victimised because of his prominent role in the “Hacked Off” campaign.  We had a post on this at the time and it appears to have led to Lord Justice Leveson’s warning to the press at the outset of his Inquiry.

3 Comments

  1. Elaine Decoulos

    Firstly, there is a significant date typo in your post. I am sure you meant November 2011, not November 2003, a month forever etched in my memory as the time I was first defamed across the British press.

    Is this the first reasoned judgment given for The Harassment Act 1997 used against the press/photographers? Did anyone challenge the Cheryl Cole injunction? Do these injunctions have return dates, as most do when the other party is not in attendance and it is ex parte?

    Having just had a better look at your post on the Cheryl Cole injunction, it is significant that it was granted in private by Mr. Justice Eady, whereas the one for Ting Lang Hong and her daughter, was granted in public by Mr. J Tugendhat. The fact that the one for Cheryl Cole was heard in private is very strange indeed. The reason there is a provision for private hearings under the Harassment Act 1997 in part 39 of the Civil Procedure Rules is for concerns about the defendant’s reputation if they were not at the hearing. The Judge also has to consider Article 6 of ECHR, as now made clear in PD 39 para 1.4A of the Civil Procedure Rules. It certainly appears Mr. J Eady erred in law in granting the Cheryl Cole injunction in private.

    As for Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR, there is no mention of them anywhere, not even in the judgment of Mr. J Tugendhat for Ting Lang Hong. This, despite the judgment being given by a libel/privacy Judge and not in Court 37, the interim applications court, where injunctions under The Harassment Act 1997 would normally be granted.

  2. INFORRM

    Thank you for pointing out the typo – now corrected.

    There was a return date on the Cheryl Cole injunction – but no public judgment

  3. Elaine Decoulos

    I am happy to be of assistance. Will have to find out what happened at the return date on the Cheryl Cole injunction. I am a bit of an ‘amateur expert’ on The Harassment Act 1997, after I was served an injunction granted under it in Massachusetts. I will spare you the painful details at the moment, after trying to explain them elsewhere. Time to start my own blog.

    I must say that the last sentence in paragraph 11 of the judgment which you quote above, is a bit hard to take in. Don’t these people have curtains? And who are they taking photos of during the night if everyone in the neighbourhood is trying to sleep but cannot because of ‘the flashing of cameras’?

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