Sand Van Roy brought proceedings against Associated Newspapers Limited (“ANL”) in 2020 in respect of the publication of a number of articles which published her private information (both actual and purported).
The private information in question had already been published in France some days earlier. The question therefore was whether the fact of the French publication meant that Ms Van Roy no longer had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information in this jurisdiction.
On 18 May 2018, Ms Van Roy filed a report with the French police that she had been raped by a French director at a Paris hotel in the early hours of that morning (although the individual in question strongly denies the allegations). Despite being legally entitled to anonymity in respect of her complaint as a victim of sexual assault under both English and French law, details of Ms Van Roy’s complaint to the police were leaked to the French press and consequently published in France on 19 May 2018, which revealed Ms Van Roy’s identity to the public without her consent. Following widespread coverage in France, on 29 May 2018, MailOnline published an article that also named Ms Van Roy as a complainant in a rape case, revealing her identity – again without her consent – to a wider, English-speaking readership. In that article and two subsequent articles published in 2019, MailOnline also published private information about Ms Van Roy’s complaint, including, falsely, that she had alleged that the director in question had drugged her.
In July 2018, following continued, and often inaccurate, coverage of the matter, Ms Van Roy felt compelled to give a series of interviews on the record – which she felt was the only course of action that was available to her to correct the narrative and try to gain control over the media storm.
Reasonable expectation of privacy
MailOnline initially argued that Ms Van Roy did not have “any reasonable expectation of privacy” in respect of her complaint to the police on the basis that her identity as the complainant was already in the public domain at the time the first article was published. MailOnline also argued that Ms Van Roy had forfeited her right to anonymity by going on the record from July 2018.
MailOnline’s position that an expectation of privacy was extinguished by the fact of publication elsewhere was unsustainable, particularly in the light of the recent decision in Sicri v Associated Newspapers Ltd.
In Sicri, Mr Justice Warby considered whether publication by the Guardian of the claimant’s identity in connection with his arrest diminished the claimant’s right to privacy. Warby J disagreed with ANL’s position that it did and held that “a person’s privacy rights are not defeated by the mere fact that information is accessible”. Further, Warby J noted that there was minimal overlap between the readership of the Guardian and that of MailOnline and as such the Guardian article did not bring “an end to the claimant’s otherwise reasonable expectation that the defendant would not publish the Information” i.e. his identity and the fact of his being arrested in connection with the Manchester terrorist attack.
This decision has important consequences for privacy cases such as Ms Van Roy’s, which notably settled shortly after the judgment in Sicri was handed down. Applying Warby J’s reasoning in Sicri, publication of private information in France, even where widespread, would have been considered manifestly different to publication of the same information in this jurisdiction as there will have been little overlap in the readership.
MailOnline ultimately filed a Defence admitting liability in respect of the majority of Ms Van Roy’s complaint.
Ms Van Roy accepted an offer of settlement, which included publication of a correction and apology on MailOnline payment of substantial damages and her legal costs, in addition to MailOnline joining in the reading of the statement in open court. The Statement was read on 21 May 2021 before Mr Justice Murray.
Ms Van Roy was represented by Nigel Tait, Helena Shipman and Katherine Hooley of Carter-Ruck, and Hugh Tomlinson QC and Aidan Wills of Matrix Chambers.