Channel 5 ordered to pay ‘substantial damages’ to couple in settling legal action over misuse of private information.

28 July 2021

Author: Olivia O'Kane
Practice Area: Media and Entertainment

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Following a High Court action for misuse of private information, a couple featured on the British factual documentary series "Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away!" has received a public apology and 'substantial damages' from Channel 5 following their appearance on the show. The Claimants in the matter Keith Wain and Julie Kelly alleged the national broadcaster misused their private information in a ‘grave’ way.

Background

The relevant background to the dispute is as follows. In 2002, Mr Wain borrowed a sum of money from a private individual to invest in a new business. Unfortunately, the business failed and Mr Wain was unable to repay the money to the individual, who subsequently brought a claim against Mr Wain in the County Court obtaining a judgment against him in January 2012.

More than five years later, and without warning, on 11 May 2017 two High Court Enforcement Agents (“HCEAs”) attended the home Mr Wain shared with Ms Kelly to enforce the debt. A film crew was in attendance with the HCEAs. Mr Wain made it clear that the film crew was not to enter his home or to film him or Ms Kelly. However, the HCEAs present at the home wore bodycams and radio microphones, which recorded video and audio footage in the Claimants' home. Subsequently, these recordings were included in an episode of the programme.

In their defence, Channel 5 confirmed that the programme has been broadcast to over 2.5 million people in a form in which the Claimants' faces were shown, and to a further 4.2 million people in a form in which the Claimants' faces were blurred and their names removed.

The Claimants explained to the Court that this broadcast caused them "immense upset and distress." Their case was that the programme wrongly revealed matters that were private to them which took place in their home. They stated that they were both very private individuals, living in a small community and word soon spread about the programme amongst people they know through work and socially. The Claimants’ further explained the filming within their own home and subsequent publication of the private information obtained in that way to 6.7 million people amounted to a ‘grave’ misuse of their private information.

Decision

Channel 5 were of the view that their programme formed part of a series of real public interest, where each story involves a careful balancing exercise between matters of public interest and the right to respect for privacy. However, on this occasion, the national broadcaster accepted it had gotten the balance wrong. In a joint statement read in open court before the Honourable Mrs Justice Collins Rice, the claim was settled with Channel 5 apologising to the Claimants for the distress caused to them by the broadcast of the episode in question. Additionally, Channel 5 undertook not to broadcast the programme complained of again, or make it available online.

If you would like any further information or advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Media and Entertainment team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

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