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Court injunction prohibits media harassment of mother and baby

Out-Law News | 25 Nov 2011 | 12:21 pm | 2 min. read

The UK High Court has banned paparazzi photographers and other media from harassing an actor's baby and her mother.

Mr Justice Tugendhat said that it was "necessary and proportionate" to issue an injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act in order to prohibit the media from harassing Ting Lan Hong and her daughter. Film actor Hugh Grant is the father of the child. 

Ting Lan Hong had complained to the court about "intimidating", "distressing" and "threatening" behaviour from photographers who have made her life "unbearable" following the recent birth of her daughter, according to the ruling.  

Under the Protection from Harassment Act a person is generally deemed to have committed an offence if, on more than one occasion, they "pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another, and which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment" of someone else. Under the provisions of the Act a person is deemed to "ought to know" that their conduct "amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment". 

Those who are in breach of the Act can be jailed or fined. The High Court can issue an injunction "for the purpose of restraining [an individual] from pursuing any conduct which amounts to harassment" and if the person who requested the injunction believes that the individual "has done anything which he is prohibited from doing by the injunction", they can "apply for the issue of a warrant for the[ir] arrest". 

Ting Lan Hong had complained that photographers had been following her and "constantly" waited outside her home. She said she had "been photographed without her consent" since April this year and was involved in a car crash when she became "distracted" by a car that was trailing her.

Ting Lan Hong has received "lots" of phone calls from journalists, one of which "terrified" her, and she said that reporters have also left voice and text messages on her mobile which caused her to change her number, the ruling said. Ting Lan Hong also claimed that photographers sometimes stayed outside her house all night, keeping her and her neighbours awake with "the flashing of cameras". She said that she has had to cancel appointments for her and her daughter and that a photographer had sworn at her mother. 

Ting Lan Hong complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) on 3 November about the media harassment and although "some journalists and photographers stopped attending at the property, a number of them persisted and have acted as described by [Ting Lan Hong]," the ruling said 

"It is on the basis of this evidence that I was satisfied that it was necessary and proportionate to grant the injunction sought," Mr Justice Tugendhat said. 

Under the Editors' Code of Practice journalists are prohibited from intimidating, harassing or carrying out persistent pursuit. The Code prohibits them from persisting in "questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them". If asked to do so journalists must identify themselves and who they represent and editors are obliged to ensure that those principles are followed by those working for them. The Code requires editors to "take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources"

 

The PCC can 'name and shame' publications that break the Code and ask them to publish apologies, but it has no legal powers to enforce punishments such as fines for violations of the Code.