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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 21:27 GMT
Burrell enters the media scrum
Paul Burrell

On one level it's a typical tabloid spat - but one that might have implications for the future of that staple of tabloid tit-for-tat, the "spoiler".

The Daily Mirror signs up Paul Burrell for a hefty 300,000 or thereabouts, and publishes his "sensational story" as a "world exclusive", with extensive quotes from Burrell himself, "speaking for the first time" over 11 pages.

Meanwhile rival papers publish spoilers which give the impression that they too have Paul Burrell's story - and may indeed have even juicier material than the Mirror.


What makes this particular story unusual is the existence of an injunction

"Burrell Sensation: Diana wanted to give him sack; he grovelled, kissing her feet", says the front page of Wednesday's Sun.

"Burrell on Diana, Dodi, Charles and the Queen, and his role as the royal go-between" says the Daily Mail on an inside page, under a headline that reads "The thoughts of the butler" and the strapline "Revealed in his own words, an intriguing insight into his actions and attitudes".

What makes this particular story unusual is the existence of an injunction, successfully sought yesterday afternoon by Paul Burrell's lawyers against one of the papers ("Di butler gags Sun") which raises questions about the way spoilers are traditionally framed.

The Sun, it appears, has what Burrell's solicitor, David Price, calls "significant additional material" which is "very sensitive" and derived from two witness statements, one a lengthy document known as a "proof of evidence" prepared by Burrell for his defence team and supposed to remain confidential.

Explosive revelations

Burrell's lawyers believe this document was stolen by someone and sold to the newspapers.

Large chunks of it - detailing for instance how Burrell supposedly smuggled Diana's lovers in and out of Kensington Palace hidden in the boot of a car, all in Burrell's own words - have already been published, in last weekend's News of the World and in other papers earlier this week.

But The Sun apparently had more - revelations so explosive that Burrell's lawyers were determined to prevent them getting into the public domain.

The Queen
The Queen's meeting with Paul Burrell is under scrutiny

Or perhaps Burrell - who has always sworn to publish nothing that might embarrass the Queen - thought his promise might be in danger.

Or perhaps he was just anxious to protect the exclusivity of The Mirror's material and his claim on that 300,000.

The injunction prevents The Sun from publishing further disclosures from the two statements, though it doesn't prevent the paper from repeating things which have already been published elsewhere.

In one respect this is routine: there may be no law of privacy in England and Wales, but there is what is called the law of confidence, which protects confidential information from unauthorised disclosure.

Burrell's lawyers will have had no difficulty persuading Mr Justice Eady, who granted the injunction, that a "proof of evidence" is indeed confidential and should remain so.

In that respect the proof is different from Burrell's original statement to police, 39 pages long, which is a public document: most of it was read out in court and most of it is reprinted in Wednesday's Mirror.

Rival papers

There is a second element to the injunction, however. It also stops The Sun from publishing anything which might create the impression that Burrell himself had disclosed the information in his statements to the media.

David Price, Burrell's solicitor, says that bit is modelled on a celebrated case years ago involving Gorden Kaye, the actor who starred in 'Allo 'Allo, and the Sunday Sport.

A reporter and photographer from the Sport invaded a hospital room where Kaye was lying seriously injured.

His lawyers were unable to stop publication on grounds of invasion of privacy; but, according to Price, they were able to prevent the paper from giving the impression that Kaye had co-operated with the Sport or authorised the invasion.

If people who sell their stories to one paper want to prevent rivals running spoilers, this is a tactic they also might try in future.

It wouldn't prevent a spoiler completely; but it might prevent those which give the impression they're quoting someone directly. The Sun's in-house lawyer, Daniel Taylor, concedes that such an injunction is rare, and says he's never seen one before.

But he's not so sure that others would be able to follow a similar route.

The circumstances of this particular case are unusual.

In his view the spoiler as a tabloid staple is not at risk. The interim injunction is due to be reviewed at a full hearing on Monday - though as I write there are rumours Burrell and The Sun may be about to come to a deal.

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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