13 Nov PRIVACY – MANCHESTER UNITED FOOTBALLER WINS INJUNCTION FOLLOWING PREGNANCY DISCLOSURE
Manchester United footballer Aaron Wan-Bissaka has won a privacy injunction against ex-girlfriend Rhianna Bentley, after she broke the news of his current partner’s pregnancy on social media.
The Court granted an order to protect privacy, but refused one to prevent harassment, during the course of two hearings on 6 and 9 November.
Wan-Bissaka and Bentley had been in a long-term relationship, following which he got together with April Francis.
Francis then became pregnant, but she and the footballer kept the news about this private.
The information was first made public by Bentley on Instagram, who published a post thanking her followers for their support during her relationship with Wan-Bissaka, and congratulating him on the “new arrival” and commenting that “a new life is always a blessing.”
Bentley tagged the footballer’s Instagram account so the message appeared directly on his timeline.
Bentley followed up these posts by publishing screenshots of private messages between herself and Wan-Bissaka to Instagram.
The judge said that Ms Bentley had, through her social media posts, “suggested a very recent split…and he had in some way betrayed her by getting another woman pregnant”.
“It may have given the impression the break-up was very recent or even that the relationship was still continuing – that impression would have been false”, he added.
Wan-Bissaka’s barrister told the High Court that the posts by Bentley “lit the touch paper” for media speculation about his client’s private life.
When written to by the star’s lawyers, Ms Bentley replied to insist she had “every right” to speak out and claimed she had suffered “mental and physical” trauma during her time with the footballer.
“It is my human right to have freedom of speech, especially with a situation that involves myself”, she wrote. “I feel as though all victims have a right to speak on their trauma, wouldn’t you agree…”
At the first of two hearings, Bentley gave undertakings not to post anything about Wan-Bissaka online over the weekend while she sought legal advice.
At the second hearing, the judge decided that the footballer was likely to establish at trial that private information about his previous relationship with Bentley should not be published.
Given her Instagram posts and her response to the solicitors, there was a credible threat that she would publish more information, including messages and photographs, unless restrained by an injunction.
The judge also referred to the now very well-established principle that it is not in the public interest to disclose private sexual encounters.
As far as the alleged harassment claim was concerned, the judge found that Bentley’s conduct in posting the information on Instagram, although distressing, did not amount to harassment as it was not unacceptable or oppressive behaviour, or capable of sustaining criminal liability.
The presentation of the claim in terms of harassment reflects the trend for those who object to the publication of information about them online to express their complaints in this way.