Campbell v MGN Ltd

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date06 May 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] UKHL 22
CourtHouse of Lords
Date06 May 2004
MGN Limited

The Appellate Committee comprised:

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

Lord Hoffmann

Lord Hope of Craighead

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Lord Carswell



My Lords,


Naomi Campbell is a celebrated fashion model. Hers is a household name, nationally and internationally. Her face is instantly recognisable. Whatever she does and wherever she goes is news.


On 1 February 2001 the 'Mirror' newspaper carried as its first story on its front page a prominent article headed 'Naomi: I am a drug addict'. The article was supported on one side by a picture of Miss Campbell as a glamorous model, on the other side by a slightly indistinct picture of a smiling, relaxed Miss Campbell, dressed in baseball cap and jeans, over the caption 'Therapy: Naomi outside meeting'. The article read:

'Supermodel Naomi Campbell is attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings in a courageous bid to beat her addiction to drink and drugs.

The 30-year old has been a regular at counselling sessions for three months, often attending twice a day.

Dressed in jeans and baseball cap, she arrived at one of NA's lunchtime meetings this week. Hours later at a different venue she made a low-key entrance to a women-only gathering of recovered addicts.

Despite her £14 million fortune Naomi is treated as just another addict trying to put her life back together. A source close to her said last night: "She wants to clean up her life for good.

"She went into modelling when she was very young and it is easy to be led astray. Drink and drugs are unfortunately widely available in the fashion world.

"But Naomi has realised she has a problem and has bravely vowed to do something about it. Everyone wishes her well."

Her spokeswoman at Elite Models declined to comment.'


The story continued inside, with a longer article spread across two pages. The inside article was headed 'Naomi's finally trying to beat the demons that have been haunting her'. The opening paragraphs read:

'She's just another face in the crowd, but the gleaming smile is unmistakeably Naomi Campbell's.

In our picture, the catwalk queen emerges from a gruelling two-hour session at Narcotics Anonymous and gives a friend a loving hug.

This is one of the world's most beautiful women facing up to her drink and drugs addiction - and clearly winning.

The London-born supermodel has been going to NA meetings for the past three months as she tries to change her wild lifestyle.

Such is her commitment to conquering her problem that she regularly goes twice a day to group counselling …

To the rest of the group she is simply Naomi, the addict. Not the supermodel. Not the style icon.'


The article made mention of Miss Campbell's efforts to rehabilitate herself, and that one of her friends said she was still fragile but 'getting healthy'. The article gave a general description of Narcotics Anonymous therapy, and referred to some of Miss Campbell's recent publicised activities. These included an occasion when Miss Campbell was rushed to hospital and had her stomach pumped. She claimed it was an allergic reaction to antibiotics and that she had never had a drug problem: but 'those closest to her knew the truth'.


In the middle of the double page spread, between several innocuous pictures of Miss Campbell, was a dominating picture over the caption 'Hugs: Naomi, dressed in jeans and baseball hat, arrives for a lunchtime group meeting this week'. The picture showed her in the street on the doorstep of a building as the central figure in a small group. She was being embraced by two people whose faces had been pixelated. Standing on the pavement was a board advertising a named café. The article did not name the venue of the meeting, but anyone who knew the district well would be able to identify the place shown in the photograph.


The general tone of the articles was sympathetic and supportive with, perhaps, the barest undertone of smugness that Miss Campbell had been caught out by the 'Mirror'. The source of the newspaper's information was either an associate of Miss Campbell or a fellow addict attending meetings of Narcotics Anonymous. The photographs of her attending a meeting were taken by a free lance photographer specifically employed by the newspaper to do the job. He took the photographs covertly, while concealed some distance away inside a parked car.


In certain respects the articles were inaccurate. Miss Campbell had been attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, in this country and abroad, for two years, not three months. The frequency of her attendance at meetings was greatly exaggerated. She did not regularly attend meetings twice a day. The street photographs showed her leaving a meeting, not arriving, contrary to the caption in the newspaper article.

The proceedings and the further articles


On the same day as the articles were published Miss Campbell commenced proceedings against MGN Ltd, the publisher of the 'Mirror'. The newspaper's response was to publish further articles, this time highly critical of Miss Campbell. On 5 February 2001 the newspaper published an article headed, in large letters, 'Pathetic'. Below was a photograph of Miss Campbell over the caption 'Help: Naomi leaves Narcotics Anonymous meeting last week after receiving therapy in her battle against illegal drugs'. This photograph was similar to the street scene picture published on 1 February. The text of the article was headed 'After years of self-publicity and illegal drug abuse, Naomi Campbell whinges about privacy.' The article mentioned that 'the Mirror revealed last week how she is attending daily meetings of Narcotics Anonymous'. Elsewhere in the same edition an editorial article, with the heading 'No hiding Naomi', concluded with the words: 'If Naomi Campbell wants to live like a nun, let her join a nunnery. If she wants the excitement of a show business life, she must accept what comes with it.'


Two days later, on 7 February, the 'Mirror' returned to the attack with an offensive and disparaging article. Under the heading 'Fame on you, Ms Campbell', an article referred to her plans 'to launch a campaign for better rights for celebrities or "artists" as she calls them'. The article included the sentence: 'As a campaigner, Naomi's about as effective as a chocolate soldier.'


In the proceedings Miss Campbell claimed damages for breach of confidence and compensation under the Data Protection Act 1998. The article of 7 February formed the main basis of a claim for aggravated damages. Morland J [2002] EWHC 499 (QB) upheld Miss Campbell's claim. He made her a modest award of £2,500 plus £1,000 aggravated damages in respect of both claims. The newspaper appealed. The Court of Appeal, comprising Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers MR, Chadwick and Keene LJJ, allowed the appeal and discharged the judge's order: [2002] EWCA Civ 1373, [2003] QB 633. Miss Campbell has now appealed to your Lordships' House.

Breach of confidence: misuse of private information


In this country, unlike the United States of America, there is no over-arching, all-embracing cause of action for 'invasion of privacy': see Wainwright v Home Office [2003] 3 WLR 1137. But protection of various aspects of privacy is a fast developing area of the law, here and in some other common law jurisdictions. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand in Hosking v Runting (25 March 2004) is an example of this. In this country development of the law has been spurred by enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998.


The present case concerns one aspect of invasion of privacy: wrongful disclosure of private information. The case involves the familiar competition between freedom of expression and respect for an individual's privacy. Both are vitally important rights. Neither has precedence over the other. The importance of freedom of expression has been stressed often and eloquently, the importance of privacy less so. But it, too, lies at the heart of liberty in a modern state. A proper degree of privacy is essential for the well-being and development of an individual. And restraints imposed on government to pry into the lives of the citizen go to the essence of a democratic state: see La Forest J in R v Dymont [1988] 2 SCR 417, 426.


The common law or, more precisely, courts of equity have long afforded protection to the wrongful use of private information by means of the cause of action which became known as breach of confidence. A breach of confidence was restrained as a form of unconscionable conduct, akin to a breach of trust. Today this nomenclature is misleading. The breach of confidence label harks back to the time when the cause of action was based on improper use of information disclosed by one person to another in confidence. To attract protection the information had to be of a confidential nature. But the gist of the cause of action was that information of this character had been disclosed by one person to another in circumstances 'importing an obligation of confidence' even though no contract of non-disclosure existed: see the classic exposition by Megarry J in Coco v A. N. Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1969] RPC 41, 47-48. The confidence referred to in the phrase 'breach of confidence' was the confidence arising out of a confidential relationship.


This cause of action has now firmly shaken off the limiting constraint of the need for an initial confidential relationship. In doing so it has changed its nature. In this country this development was recognised clearly in the judgment of Lord Goff of Chieveley in Attorney-General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd (No 2) [1990] 1 AC 109, 281. Now the law imposes a 'duty of confidence'...

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