25.4.05

Beckhams left exposed after failed injunction

After another weekend of high drama at Beckingham palace (in Spanish exile), a failed bid to prevent the News of the World printing its nannygate exposee has left the Beckhams private life and legal position distinctly exposed.

In drawing up their battle plan, the Beckhams’ lawyers and publicists have their work cut out. Nannygate may have started out as a further action against the News of the World but could, if pursued, soon find itself inextricably linked to the ongoing defamation action against the same paper.

The newspaper coverage complained of could soon be turned around to become the evidence that undermines their cause of action. In deciding to publish Abbie Gibson’s account of Posh and Beck’s marital relations, the News of the World has not just provided itself and the wider press with several pages of salacious copy but is putting into the public domain evidence that could well justify its assertion that Posh and Becks were ‘on the rocks’.

If what Abbie says is true, then it would seem that romps in the beauty parlour with Danielle Heath, the alleged sex-texts to Loos and various other liaisons may contain more fact than the fantasy they were suggested as being. Would this not amount to evidence or give grounds for a marriage being in crisis? Would people think less of the Beckhams or ‘golden balls’ in particular because of all this or only because the News of the World told them so?

One would have to frame the particulars of claim to such a defamation action very narrowly to pin the blame on the paper rather than the facts of its story. So it may be that the News of the World printed the justification for its earlier story and as far as Mr Justice Langley was concerned, this was in the public interest.

As the Beckhams get set to challenge his refusal to prevent the paper publishing its, or Abbie’s, story, they may do better to leave this latest instalment alone. The story’s out and the real question is not how much damage it may have done to them but, if they pursue it, their legal action. The curse of being a celebrity is that when you traverse the divide from modest chanteuse or football player to the regal status of brand and lifestyle that Posh and Becks bought into, your kingmaker can just as soon turn out to be your grim reaper and no matter how much money you’ve made, it won’t buy you immunity from the double edged sword of the media. How far the courts will be prepared to go to protect celebrities behaving badly or who fall out of favour is still up for debate. Last year saw the House of Lords siding with ‘a lying, drug-taking celebrity’ who, in spite of this, deserved some respect for her private life. So the question for Beckham’s lawyers is whether its worth pursuing this latest publication as further evidence of something defamatory or changing the game plan and following the well-trodden yet precarious path of privacy and confidentiality.

Its at this point that the ball may come back into their court as such an action may have more scope to stick than defamation. This would however be cruel sport as it might deny us the opportunity of lining the array of colourful witnesses up in court.

There seems to be little doubt that Abbie’s contract and role as nanny with the Beckhams would have carried some hefty confidentiality clauses with it. So the basis for an action along such lines may have seemed clear and telling what went on in Beckingham palace would certainly involve revealing matters considered private but this is where their celebrity status may undermine their cause.

In refusing to grant the Beckhams their injunction, Mr Justice Langley determined that Abbie’s revelations were in the public interest. In other words the public has a right to know this information and then make up its own mind. In this context the question for the lawyers and the media becomes one of whether, where a person or as in this case, couple, have risen to celebrity status through extensive and courted media attention, it is acceptable to deny them a right of remedy over breaches in confidentiality and about their private life.

In the final analysis that will be determined by whether the public who were so interested in them and lapped up the coverage that contributed to their celebrity status have a legitimate ‘interest’ as recognised in law to know the facts that the News of the World has revealed.

At half-time the Beckhams appear to be 1:0 down but as the Naomi Campbell case demonstrated, you can never be sure of the referee.