It is appears that, despite the attention focussed on their conduct by the Leveson Inquiry, certain sections of the press continue to harass individuals who happen, through no fault of their own, to become newsworthy. This time it was the turn of someone who happens to have rented a house to person who turned out to be the wife of Abu Qatada. He has, since a recent judgment of the Court of Human Rights, been the subject of intense tabloid scrutiny. But the fact that Abu Qatada himself is a controversial figure and properly subject to press criticism and attention does not mean that same applies to his landlord (or, indeed, his wife).
On 20 February 2012 Mr Justice Tugendhat continued an order which prevents journalists from naming or harassing the landlord who owns the property where Abu Qatada is staying with his family. He continued an order made on 15 February 2012 by Mrs Justice Dobbs after a telephone application by the landlord’s lawyers. It is not clear whether notice was given to the media in advance of this application.
Mrs Justice Dobbs’ order is in extremely wide terms. It prohibits the publication of:
“1. The claimant’s name and address
2. Any photograph or film or video or other image that identifies or is likely to identify the claimant’s address as being the address at which the Claimant lives.
3. Any photograph or film or video or other image showing any occupier or invitee within the house or garden of the Claimant’s address”.
In addition, the order restrains the press from:
1. Harassing, pestering, threatening or otherwise interfering with any occupier or invitee within the house or garden of the Claimant’s address;
2. Entering, attempting to enter or approaching within 100 yards of the Claimant’s address
3. Communicating with or attempting to communicate with the Claimant by any medium
On 16 February 2012, the landlord told the “Sun” that he thought he had let his property to a single mother. He was quoted as saying
“I didn’t know anything about this — I am shocked. In January, I got a call from the lettings agency saying this woman wanted to rent it on a year’s contract. They even had a lawyer to agree the tenancy agreement. They said she was a single woman with no husband. Her surname is not the same as his. The woman is claiming benefit. They are paying me £1,900 a month. I have a contract with a six-month break clause but I will have to see what I can do.“
At the hearing today the landlord’s counsel, Leonie Hirst, told Mr Justice Tugendhat that the landlord had not realised that Abu Qatada would move into the property. She said that “Through no fault … of his own he is now the subject of intense and very intrusive media scrutiny.” The defendants were named as “media respondents”, but were not represented in court.
Mr Justice Tugendhat held that the order should continue and said that he would give reasons in the near future. He indicated that he would make an amended order. Until judgment is handed down, Mrs Justice Dobbs’ order remains in force.