Naming Private Ryan: MP outs Giggs as love-rat
Published 23:02 23/05/11 By Jason Beattie
Ryan Giggs’ desperate bid to keep his name out of the papers over an alleged secret affair with Imogen Thomas was doomed from the moment he threatened to sue Twitter users for outing him.
The married dad-of-two sparked a furious backlash with tweeters bombarding the social networking site in their thousands to name him.
And his farcical attempts at hiding behind a court gagging order finally came to an end yesterday when Lib Dem MP John Hemming told the Commons the former Wales international was the footballer who had the alleged six-month fling with 28-year-old Big Brother star Imogen.
It was already known in pubs, clubs and football grounds across the land that Giggs was the player at the centre of the sordid claims, thanks to sites such as Twitter.
Newspapers and TV stations were still banned by the High Court from naming the 37-year-old Manchester United veteran.
But Mr Hemming blew apart Britain’s worst-kept secret when he told MPs: “With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter it’s obviously impracticable to imprison them all.” The MP was cut short by Speaker John Bercow. But he said the comments could be reported in the press, despite a High Court judge yesterday yet again refusing to lift Giggs’s gagging order.
And the statement marked a resounding victory for the press, politicians and internet users in their campaign for free speech.
Last night even David Cameron waded into the row, claiming it was “unfair” that newspapers could not report something that was common knowledge on social websites.
Mr Hemming used Parliamentary privilege to sensationally out Giggs. After being allowed to continue by Mr Bercow, he added: “The question is what the Government’s view is on an enforceability of a law that clearly doesn’t have public consent.” Explaining his decision to name Giggs, he said later: “When he sued Twitter and showed he was going to go after ordinary people and try to prosecute them for gossiping about him on a matter of trivia, I think he has to be held to account for that.
“I really don’t think we should allow a situation where people are prosecuted and potentially jailed for two years and it all happens in secret.
“If there is oppression going on, we should be willing to speak out about it. Is it really good to have a society in which rich people use their money to persecute people of relatively ordinary means, and nobody is willing to say anything about it? I think that would be wrong and very sad.”
It is claimed Giggs, who is due to play for Premier League winners United in the Champions League final against Barcelona on Saturday, romped with Imogen at hotels behind his wife Stacey’s back.
Influential chairman of the Culture, Media and Sports Committee John Whittingdale said: “You would have to be living in an igloo not to know the identity of at least one Premier League footballer who has obtained an injunction.
“The actions of thousands of people of posting details of this on Twitter are in danger of making the law look an ass.”
But Attorney-General Dominic Grieve warned Twitter users breaching court orders could still face jail. He added: “Those who may take an idea that modern methods of communication mean they can act with impunity may well find themselves in for a rude shock.”
Legal experts claim Giggs could have spent up to £200,000 in legal fees trying to keep the alleged fling secret. Mr Cameron told how even he was aware who was at the centre of the claims.
The PM said: “It is unsustainable, this situation, where newspapers can’t print something that clearly everybody else is talking about, but there’s a difficulty here because the law is the law and judges must interpret what the law is.
“What I’ve said in the past is, the danger is that judgments are effectively writing a new law which is what Parliament is meant to do.”
Ed Miliband also weighed in. He said the law was not working “as it stands”.
The Labour leader added: “Parliament needs to look at this issue.”
Solicitor James Quartermaine of law firm Charles Russell, said: “The decision of John Hemming to name the footballer appears finally to have applied the silver bullet to an injunction that was dying on its feet in the face of mass civil disobedience online.”
Less than an hour before Mr Hemming named the player, Mr Justice Eady yesterday rejected a fresh application by newspapers to have the injunction on Giggs lifted.
The court heard it was “futile” to keep his name secret when it had been published on the internet and by Scotland’s Sunday Herald at the weekend which is exempt from English laws. But the judge disagreed.
MP HEMMING: WHY I DECIDED TO NAME GIGGS
When he sued Twitter, it was clear what he was doing. He was going after the ordinary people who have been gossiping on Twitter.
I have spoken to people of ordinary means who have received these injunctions. This is a really oppressive system.
So on one side you have a footballer upset people are gossiping about him and on the other side you have ordinary people facing the threats of a two-year jail sentence.
Before he sued Twitter, there was no public interest in naming him.
However, when his lawyers decided to go on a “search and destroy” against the ordinary people who gossip on Twitter, he had taken a step that should not be done anonymously.
In Burma they jail people for criticising the king and people here are up in arms. Here they threaten to jail people for criticising a footballer and the lawyers say I should not name the footballer.”
NO ONE CAN STOP GOSSIP - LEADING MEDIA LAWYER MARK STEPHENS
The initial advice from Schillings to Ryan Giggs was correct from a legal point of view.
The footballer was still trying to keep something a secret that was relatively unknown at the time.
But the client in this case is one of Britain’s most famous footballers, playing for a successful team.
Gossip will inevitably start because of the amount of attention focused on him through everyone surrounding Manchester United, be it the fans, players or agents.
The information about this injunction was always going to come out – there was no way to stop it.
Lawyers tend to look at things in terms of a purely legal situation.
I estimate Giggs has spent in the region of £200,000 on legal advice – making him the poster boy for privacy injunctions.
If he had spent the money on a good PR man, then he would not be in the same position as he is now. He would be yesterday’s news, not the focus of it.
GAGGING-ORDER STARS FEAR GAME IS NOW UP
A string of celebs and footballers hiding behind injunctions were last night bracing themselves to be outed.
High-profile stars fear they will soon follow in Ryan Giggs’ footsteps by having their private lives exposed.
They know there is nothing to stop politicians using parliamentary privilege to reveal their sordid secrets.
The group includes Premier League players, a former top-flight manager and a respected TV actor trying to hide sexual trysts and cheating on their wives, and a celebrity chef accused of mistreating and sacking staff.
A goalkeeper was caught texting photographs of his private parts to a woman, while a married England star on £100,000 a week took out an injunction banning his mistress from describing their affair.
A 2006 injunction stops footballers and managers who spent millions on gambling being named.