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The Limits Of Privacy – Why Sports Stars Remain Exposed In Criminal Investigations

Privacy Law
Friday, 24 February 2023 By Nick Barnard

Much progress has been made in recent years to protect the privacy of individuals in criminal investigations, particularly where they have yet to be charged with any criminal offence. Until the mid-00s, the private lives of public figures were gleefully considered fair game by the UK press, and, as the Leveson Inquiry1 (a UK Government report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press) explored, there was a cottage industry dedicated to the dark arts of phone hacking and blagging celebrities’ private information. Since then, the pendulum has swung back in favour of protecting privacy, most notably in 2018 when Sir Cliff Richard was awarded significant damages2 against the BBC and South Yorkshire Police after a raid on his home was broadcast live, as part of an investigation into serious allegations that ultimately resulted in no charges being brought. However, some corners of the media say3 that those protections now go too far, creating a disproportionate fetter on reporting matters of public interest, which do sometimes include the private affairs of public figures.

This article considers the very recent case of a top-level sportsman, whose arrest has been the subject of national and international media coverage. Readers will learn that any purported privacy protection for high-profile suspects in criminal investigations is not unlimited or unassailable. Furthermore, that those protections taper away in opposite proportion to the subject’s fame, such that the higher the subject’s profile, the more likely a breach of privacy is to be justified. This is particularly so where there are third parties with vested interests in the subject’s profile (such as clubs and sponsors) and in the relentless and unregulated world of social media.

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Nick Barnard

Nick Barnard

Nick Barnard (Of Counsel) at Corker Binning specialises in advising and representing individual and corporate clients in a range of criminal and regulatory matters.

In recent years, Nick has acted in some of the most high-profile and complex investigations into fraud, bribery, tax offences, money laundering and asset forfeiture in the UK and abroad. He is frequently involved in cases conducted by the Serious Fraud Office, the National Crime Agency, the Financial Conduct Authority and HMRC, as well as international investigators, prosecutors and regulators.

Nick also has expertise in general crime matters, having provided advice from the police station to the Magistrates’ and Crown Courts on offences including murder, rape and grievous bodily harm to VAT fraud, drink-driving, possession of indecent images and misconduct in public office.

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