A small child whose father is alleged to be a philandering politician has won £15,000 privacy damages at the High Court. The mother of the girl, identified only as AAA, has not named the father on her daughter’s birth certificate and wants to find the “right time” to reveal his identity to her.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies (pictured), in a judgment ( EWHC 2103 (QB)) handed down after a six-day private hearing in London, said the professional position of the supposed father, a married elected politician, spoke for itself.
“As to his private life, he is a man who has achieved a level of notoriety as a result of extramarital adulterous liaisons,” she said.
Lawyers for AAA said journalists and photographers acting for Associated Newspapers “laid siege” to her family home over 12 days in the summer of 2010, and published her photo and articles which speculated as to the identity of her father.
When it was decided to take the child, who was then less than a year old, to her grandparents’ house in Kent, a private security company was hired, and a distressed AAA had to be shielded by umbrellas from a barrage of flashing cameras.
The subsequent story alleged that the politician fathered the child when he was married to somebody else and when the mother was in another relationship and that, shortly after conception, the mother was appointed to a post by the politician, which suggested cronyism.
Associated said that an additional element was the charge of “extreme recklessness” levelled against the politician, who had had a previous affair resulting in pregnancy. Its story appeared to suggest that history was repeating itself, and explaining the child’s part in the story and demonstrating that she looked like the politician was important.
It was also important, it said, to show there had been recklessness and not “merely philandering, adultery and betrayal of his wife by the politician”, as recklessness was important when dealing with the character of a public figure and his fitness for office.
It argued that AAA was too young to know what was being said about her and the circumstances in which the photo was taken of her, covertly in public, had not involved any cause of distress.
In any case, it had given a legal undertaking, not to publish – except in certain circumstances – photos of AAA while she was a child without parental consent. Associated relied on the fact that, before publication, the mother spokeabout her daughter at a country house weekend party and, that autumn, gave an interview to a magazine.
In her judgment, the judge said that, even with people she had not previously met, the mother was “not averse” to hinting at or permitting speculation as to the identity of AAA’s father.
This demonstrated, at the least, an ambivalence towards her stated aim in the litigation.
“The claimant’s mother is an intelligent professional woman. She chose to speak and act as she did. In my view, the result has been to compromise the claimant’s reasonable expectation of privacy upon the issue of her paternity. I do not find that the claimant has no reasonable expectation, rather the weight to be attached is of a lesser degree than would have been the case had nothing been said or permitted to be said upon this matter.”
The judge, who heard evidence from AAA’s mother, grandmother and nanny, said she understood the wish to be allowed to find the right time to tell the child who her father was.
“It has never been the claimant’s case that the paternity of the claimant will remain a secret from her. Undisputed in this case is that gossip and speculation surrounding the paternity of the claimant existed in the months prior to the publication of newspaper articles. If not already in the published public domain, the identity of the claimant’s father was known or speculated upon beyond the group of friends in whom the claimant’s mother had confided and she was aware of that. I believe this would have played a part in hastening the decision of the claimant’s mother to tell the claimant of the identity of her father. The child was less than one year old at the date of the publication of the first article, the final article was published seven months later. The young age of the claimant does allow her mother time to consider when and how best to deal with the matter of her paternity.”
It was undisputed that there was a public interest in the professional and private life of AAA’s supposed father.
“Of itself, the fact of an extramarital affair does not render inevitable the publishing of information that, as a result, a child was conceived. However, the claimant is alleged to be the second such child conceived as a result of an extramarital affair of the supposed father.”
“I find that the identified issue of recklessness is one which is relevant to the professional and personal character of the supposed father. Specifically, I find that it goes beyond fame and notoriety.”
The judge concluded:
“In balancing the claimant’s expectation of privacy against the public interest in the supposed father and in particular the recklessness, relevant to his character and fitness for public office, I find that the publication of the fact of the claimant’s birth in the circumstances alleged was justified.“
But, she added, the publication of photos of AAA was not reasonable or justified by “exceptional public interest”.
“In publishing the photographs, the rights of the claimant have been breached. Any award should reflect this fact and serve as notice, both as to the present and the future, as to how seriously the court regards infringement of a child’s rights. This is particularly so in a case when there is such interest in the public persona of the alleged father.“
The judge said that so much information about the mother’s affair with the supposed father, AAA’s birth and supposed paternity was now in the public domain, that an injunction to prevent any further publication upon the topic would serve no real purpose.
She added: “This was a story which was going to be published. If the defendant had not done it, another newspaper would.”
This post originally appeared on the Media Lawyer website and is reproduced with permission and thanks.