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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 16:21 GMT


Earl Spencer loses privacy battle to Europe

Earl Spencer has lost his privacy battle with the British Government.

The European Commission on Human Rights threw out a claim by the earl and his former wife Victoria that the lack of a privacy law in the UK meant he could not stop newspapers writing about her health problems in 1995.

They claimed the existing law of confidence did not provide sufficient legal action, while the Government argued that it did.

The Government also said Earl Spencer had not done all he could in British law before going to the European court.

The behind-closed-doors hearing was also told that last summer Earl Spencer and his former wife had taken action for breach of confidence against two acquaintances.

The High Court had ordered the acquaintances not to make further disclosures about them.

[ image: Victoria Lockwood: supporting Earl Spencer in court battle]
Victoria Lockwood: supporting Earl Spencer in court battle
Earl Spencer, 33, attacked the press at the funeral of his sister Diana, Princess of Wales.

BBC Legal Affairs Correspondent Joshua Rozenberg explains the background to the case (2'23'')
His recent divorce case from Victoria Lockwood, 32, in South Africa, also provoked intense media interest.

[ image: The press coverage]
The press coverage
The complaint surrounded photographs of Ms Lockwood walking in the grounds of a health clinic which were published in tabloid newspapers in 1995, along with details of the couple's marital problems.

Earl Spencer and Ms Lockwood were jointly claiming the British system failed them and gave them no way to seek compensation.

At the time, their concerns were referred to the Press Complaints Commission, which ruled the newspapers involved acted improperly.

[ image: Earl Spencer reads the PCC ruling in 1995]
Earl Spencer reads the PCC ruling in 1995
Earl Spencer spoke about his anguish shortly afterwards.

"Somebody has got to make it clear to the tabloids that they cannot go on behaving in this way," he said.

"They've got no right to trample on people's most private life. Think this is a victory for those who believe the tabloids often go completely too far."

Charles Spencer speaking in 1995 (16")
Even some of the strongest advocates of the tabloid press appeared to agree with him.

Rupert Murdoch, the owner of The News of the World, which printed the most intrusive coverage, publicly rebuked its then editor Piers Morgan and issued a statement close to an apology.

"This company will not tolerate its papers bringing into disrepute the best practices of popular journalism," Mr Murdoch said.

[ image: The hearing will be held behind closed doors]
The hearing will be held behind closed doors
The hearing at the European Human Rights Commission, which sits in private in Strasbourg,was to decide if Earl Spencer's case is admissible.

If they had sided with him, teh acse was expected to be heard before the judges of the Human Rights Court during 1999.

Peter Duffy, a human rights lawyer, said the case was being watched to see if Europe appeared to be changing its position on people's right to privacy.

"In the past, the Court of Human Rights has very strongly emphasised the importance of the press having sufficient freedom to act," he said.

Peter Duffy: press interests have previously been put first (25")
A final ruling in the case brought under article eight of the European convention on human rights would be binding on Britain.

It is particularly sensitive following the death of Diana last year.

At her funeral, in front of hundreds of millions of television viewers, Earl Spencer accused the media of hounding her and contributing to her death.

[ image: Earl Spencer: attacked the press at his sister's funeral]
Earl Spencer: attacked the press at his sister's funeral
Then later in the year, allegations in a Cape Town court that he had a series of affairs during his marriage were splashed across the world's press.

The hearing, to determine if Earl Spencer and Victoria Lockwood should have their divorce case dealt with in Britain or South Africa, was held in the full glare of publicity, despite South African reporting restrictions.

The couple eventually reached a settlement and divorced.

But they remained united over the case being brought to the commission.

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