Former Butler of Princess Diana, Paul Burrell, issued proceedings against Max Clifford for breach of confidence and misuse of private information. Burrell had written a letter to Mr Max Clifford, the Defendant, in 2002, which was then passed from his personal assistant by fax to the editor of The News of the World.

The letter written by Burrell contained personal information about gifts he had received from the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during his employment by the Royal Family; the Queen’s interest in the birth of his first son; a serious accident he suffered in the USA with the Queen; and also information concerning his relationship with the Queen.

The letter was sent to the newspaper with a view to them publishing a story utilising this personal information, although no such publication took place. This was due to the contained information not being in the public domain at that time, resulting in the information being both private and confidential.

The issue of this claim was whether or not Paul Burrell had authorised Max Clifford to forward to letter to other parties.

Clifford claimed there was nothing wrong with forwarding the letter to the News of the World as Paul Burrell had employed him to broker the sale of his story. He also claimed that because Burrell had not issued proceedings until October 2014, the claim was time-barred under the Limitation Act 1980.

Burrell claimed that he retained Max Clifford in order to gain some protection from the media and not to broker a sale of any story. He further claimed that he had severed the relationship with Max Clifford and turned to an alternative media company in November 2002.

Burrell’s case was that Clifford sent the letter to the News of the World without his knowledge or approval, however he did not learn that the letter had been sent until June 2011 or 2012 when the fax was discovered by the Metropolitan police as part of its investigation into phone hacking. He therefore relied on Section 32 of the Limitation Act in postponing the start of a limitation period until the Claimant has “discovered the fraud, concealment or mistake (as the case may be) or could with reasonable diligence have discovered it.” This therefore means that with Paul Burrell not learning until June 2011 or June 2012, he is in within the 6 year limitation period and was able to issue proceedings against Max Clifford.

For cases of misuse of private information, the power of the court to award general damages is not limited to compensation for distress, but also to compensate for the misuse of the private information as established in the case of Gulati v MGN Newspapers [2015]. This resulted in the Claimant being compensated for the intrusion into his privacy of the letter being forwarded to the News of the World along with distress and was awarded £5,000.

Here at Farleys our specialist abuse department specialises in claims for breach of confidentiality and the misuse of information, and while some cases cause more distress to claimants than others, there is some comfort in knowing you can be compensated for the misuse of your private information. For free, no obligation advice on whether you can pursue a claim please contact us.