Lawyers from News Group Newspapers have urged a High Court judge to lift a gagging order banning it from naming a woman alleged to have had an extra-marital affair with RBS banker Sir Fred Goodwin – arguing it was a matter of ‘real, genuine, public interest”.
Lawyers acting for the The Sun and News of the World asked Mr Justice Tugendhat to lift the privacy injunction, which was imposed earlier this year, claiming an investigation into how the bank almost collapsed in 2008 was impossible with ‘this particular cloak of secrecy over the case”.
‘It is plainly a matter of real, genuine, public interest,’said Richard Spearman QC, for News Group Newspapers.
‘Sunlight should be shed on what at the moment are dark corners of this case relating to these matters concerning this extra-marital affair.”
He added: ‘One simply cannot satisfactorily investigate, debate and inform the public about these matters whilst there is this particular cloak of secrecy over the case.”
Spearman outlined the recent history of RBS, explaining it had been rescued by the Government after its collapse in 2008 – when Sir Fred was chief executive.
“The Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the largest corporate collapses of the last decade,” said Spearman. ‘Sir Fred Goodwin was at the helm when the ship hit the rocks.”
He said an estimated £50 billion of Government cash had been pumped in to bail out the bank.
“(That) works out at thousands of pounds for every member of the public. Thousands of pounds for every taxpayer,” he said.
“The public still has a stake in RBS because the money put up has not been re-paid.”
Spearman said it was known now that Goodwin was having an extra-marital affair with a colleague. What was not known was what, if any, part that affair might have played in the collapse or what, if any, failure of corporate governance there might have been as a result.
He said it was unhealthy for the public not to have information, unhealthy for the media not be to able to report, unhealthy for the bank not to have these matters aired, and the ban was possibly unhealthy for Sir Fred and “the lady concerned”.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the woman, said News Group Newspapers was seeking to build an application on “no foundations at all”.
“There is no evidence before the court that there is any public interest in the disclosure of the information,” Tomlinson told the judge.
“Apart from a vague reference to the value of sunlight, Mr Spearman has offered no cogent reason or information as to actually why the identification of the lady would add any value to any public debate about the case.”
He said if the order was lifted, “large numbers of journalists” would camp outside the woman’s home, people would follow her in the street and there would be a huge impact on her and her family.
Tomlinson said the woman had a “reasonable expectation” of privacy.
“There is no evidence that the relationship had anything to with the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland,” he said. “There is no evidence of wrongdoing.”
He said the woman had not been promoted during the time of the affair.
Last month, Mr Justice Tugendhat lifted a ban preventing journalists saying Goodwin – former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland – had an affair with the woman, after a politician used parliamentary privilege to name the millionaire.
The judge varied a privacy order to allow Goodwin’s name to be published after the banker’s identity was revealed in the House of Lords by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham.
His decision followed a court application by News Group Newspapers.
Sir Fred did not object to the order being varied to allow his name to be published.
The judge yesterday reserved judgment on the latest application to a date yet to be fixed.