The picture was used in the aftermath of the revelation that former MP Currie had a four-year affair with Major. Taken in John Major’s constituency, the picture belongs to a Cambridgeshire commercial photographic agency. The Sunday Mirror, which used it on 29 September and the Daily Mirror, which used it the next day, separately acquired licences to print it.
The agency refused the Daily Mail a licence and MGN alleges that it then not only lifted the picture from the Sunday Mirror, but coloured it as well.
MGN lawyer Marcus Partington told Press Gazette: "It is the most disgraceful infringement of copyright I have seen in my time as a newspaper lawyer. The Mail asked the agency whether it could use the picture and was told ‘No’. It then nicked it out of the Sunday Mirror and the worst aspect of this is that it then coloured in the picture, tampering with somebody else’s property, to try to cover up for the fact that it was using somebody else’s picture."
Partington said his company had tried to resolve the matter amicably "but to no avail". MGN had asked for damages, but by a deadline of last Wednesday, the Mail had refused to pay the sum demanded, although it had made an offer. The photographic agency has asked not to be named but one of the partners, Tim George, said: "The story blew up on a Saturday [28 September], and we were onto our old negs that morning." He and his partner called the Sunday Mirror and decided to deal exclusively with the Mirrors. "For the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday we fended off numerous calls from every national paper you could think of, including the Mail. The Mail was categorically and unambiguously told they couldn’t have it," said George. "We at no time gave permission to any other newspaper to use the picture. It is clearly a lifting job."
The negatives, taken 14 years ago, were black and white. When the partners saw the colour picture in the Daily Mail, they were "horrified, partly because the Mirror was not very happy with us. It thought we had broken our word to it."
George pointed out a hairline mark on their Currie picture that was also in the Mail’s picture. The agency, which was paid around £4,500, made its annoyance known to the Mail and was asked to leave the matter with the paper, but heard nothing more. The Daily Mail’s legal department had not completed its investigation in time to comment. MGN has also complained to the News of the World about its use of the same picture.