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Business / UK Print article | Email
Stars in wedding pictures case get £14,600
By Nikki Tait, Law Courts correspondent
Published: November 7 2003 20:28 | Last Updated: November 7 2003 20:28

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas were on Friday awarded just £14,600 ($24,395) for the personal damage caused by the publication of unauthorized paparazzi pictures of their wedding at New York's Plaza Hotel.

The sum was well short of the £500,000-plus that Hollywood's "golden couple" had been seeking.

However, OK! magazine was awarded £1.03m in damages against its celebrity rival, Hello! Legal costs are expected to reach up to £5m.

Earlier this year, Ms Zeta-Jones used emotional language as she told London's High Court about the distress which she had felt when the unauthorised pictures appeared in Hello!

"I felt devastated, violated and upset," she said. "I did not want my husband shoving a spoon down my throat to be photographed."

The actress went on to describe the shots that appeared in Hello! as "cheap and tawdry and everything I didn't want . . . as part of my special day".

But while the couple's award was modest, Mr Justice Lindsay awarded OK!, published by Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell group, the higher damages.

OK! had negotiated an exclusive deal over the wedding pictures and claimed to have lost substantial sales because of its competitor's action. It had been seeking about £1.5m in compensation.

In an earlier judgment, Mr Justice Lindsay had dismissed the couple's claims for exemplary or "aggravated" damages. He had also found the stars were not entitled to compensation under a separate "privacy right", saying that Hello! magazine's liability arose because of breaches of commercial confidence.

Lawyers said that Friday's decision over the size of the damages was in line with that ruling and with the general reluctance of the English courts to recognise a separate, free-standing privacy right.

Rod Dadak, at Lewis Silken, said: "It's a consistent message - privacy is not a separate tort and the judge made it clear that this was a commercial case."

Afterwards, both sides claimed a measure of victory. Hello! said that it was "very happy" with the £14,600 which was going to the stars, but "obviously disappointed" about the award to OK! magazine.

In contrast, the firm Addleshaw Goodard, representing the claimants, described the result as a "resounding victory".

It said: "The very high damages award should serve as a warning to the media that it cannot spoil opponents' exclusives with impunity."

In spite of the latest ruling the battle is not yet finished.

A two-day hearing over who should pay for the costs of the high-profile, six-week trial has yet to be held.

Lawyers estimate that the bill may be in the £4m-£5m range, easily dwarfing the combined damages sums.

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