Privacy versus Public Interest; COURTS: Legal Battles Provide Ample Evidence That the UK's Become a Nation of Nosy Parkers

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Byline: RHODRI OWEN

IT seems there is no getting away from the fact we are a nation of nosy parkers.

The evidence is uncontestable, almost from the moment net curtains were first invented they have been twitching.

And our appetite for knowing the ins and outs of our neighbours lives, not to mention what really goes on behind the closed doors of the rich and famous knows no bounds.

But the issue of whether we have the right to know certain things about certain people has taken on a whole new dimension this week with two extraordinary cases.

At face value Naomi Campbell's drug habit and the extra-marital mischief of Premiership footballer Garry Flitcroft would seem to be of little importance in the greater scheme of things.

But this Easter the court battles surrounding both these cases have been exercising the minds of the country's top legal experts and our highest profile social commentators.

Why? Because a battle is being fought around a fundamental issue of human rights in this country - how can we draw an agreeable line between the public's right to privacy and the public's right to know?

In recent weeks the UK's privacy laws have been tested by these and other celebrities keen to prevent stories being printed in the national newspapers. In each case, national newspapers have been doing their utmost to defend the public's right and desire to know about what has been going on.

Supermodel Campbell, 31, sued The Mirror for breach of confidence and unlawful invasion of privacy after it published a photograph of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in London's King's Road in February last year.

Flitcroft has spent seven months and pounds 200,000 fighting a legal battle to prevent a Sunday newspaper exposing his two secret mistresses.

Both would seem to have failed.

Campbell may have won pounds 3,500 damages, but the judge ruled she had only succeeded in establishing breach of confidentiality and breach of the Data Protection Act.

As for the Blackburn midfielder, he was named at last night. In both instances, one might think, we could have happily carried on our lives without gaining intimate knowledge of what each person was getting up to behind closed doors, but this is clearly not the case.

And now one of the highest courts in the land has recognised that while celebrities have the right to some degree of privacy as Mr Justice Morland pointed out, "It does not follow that even with selfpublicists every aspect and detail of their private lives are legitimate quarry for the journalist. They are entitled to some space of privacy."

But on the other hand, it is also arguable that as both Flitcroft and Campbell are highly visible role models for our young sons and daughters, we have a right to know if they are exposed as liars or cheats. …