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Nobody has any right to know about the sex lives of footballers and incompetent bankers

But such is the obsession with these things that only 1 in 5 agree

By on Monday, 23 May 2011

Sir Fred Goodwin, former chairman of RBS (Photo: Press Association)

Sir Fred Goodwin, former chairman of RBS (Photo: Press Association)

Do you know the name of the footballer who had an affair with a very pretty young woman described as a “Big Brother star” or “Welsh model”? Well, if you want to, all you have to do is fish around on Google and you will soon find out (it took me two minutes). And once you do, where will that get you? There seems to be a general consensus these days that we have a right to know these things (Sky News ran a poll, which found that 79% of the population are against the protection of privacy by “super injunctions”, only 21% are opposed): but on what is that opinion based, apart from natural prurience? Journalists themselves don’t necessarily support this supposed right: Dominic Lawson, for instance, has argued against it. He points out that most of those journalists, like the former editor of The Sun who go on most about absolute freedom of the Press come from those newspapers (i.e. the redtop tabloids) who make most money by publishing scandals about the sex lives of famous footballers and other celebrities. In other words, all the high-minded talk about Press freedom is so much rank hypocrisy: what The Sun is really interested in is selling newspapers.

Well, I know the name of the footballer now, and also some of the reasons being given on a certain Spanish website —(in the comments from English correspondents—mostly admiring, “lucky b****r, says one of them—under the story, with its photo of the personable young woman involved)— for why he ought to have had his privacy respected. One argument is that if his name had been revealed before now, his football team would have had its performance affected: it is pointed out that when the affair of a footballer called John Terry became a press scandal, he was sacked as captain of Chelsea (is it?) and the team did less well as a result. But what do I know?

But do we have a right to privacy? According to the Human Rights Act we do: and this is not judge-made law, incidentally, it’s a law passed by Parliament. We are told that we have to balance this article of the Act with another, which insists on the freedom of the Press: but what’s the argument for that, except in a qualified way? Kelvin Mackenzie, former editor of The Sun newspaper points in a starry-eyed way to the first article of the American Constitution, which means among other things that someone accused in America of a serious offence has no sub judice protection against press speculation about his guilt or innocence. Do we really want that?

The fact is that whatever our legal right to privacy, we surely have a moral right to it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as it happens, has quite about to say about that: it teaches (§2489) that “The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known …. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have a right to know it” . This recalls Newman’s argument (in the Apologia pro Vita Sua) that “an untruth is not a lie where there is a just cause… veracity is a kind of justice, and therefore, when we have no duty of justice to tell truth to another, it is no sin not to do so. Hence we may say the thing that is not, to children, to madmen, to men who ask impertinent questions [my italics]”.

The CCC argues also that

“2491 Professional secrets – for example, those of political office holders, soldiers, physicians, and lawyers – or confidential information given under the seal of secrecy must be kept, save in exceptional cases where keeping the secret is bound to cause very grave harm to the one who confided it, to the one who received it or to a third party, and where the very grave harm can be avoided only by divulging the truth. Even if not confided under the seal of secrecy, private information prejudicial to another is not to be divulged without a grave and proportionate reason.”


“2492 Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom.

The CCC argues also that “Civil authorities should punish any violation of the rights of individuals to their reputation and privacy”. These rights to privacy used to be one of the things we all used to take for granted. The CCC doesn’t produce any supporting argument when it insists on these rights; it simply assumes them as axiomatic and takes it for granted that we will too.

But there has been a huge shift in the public mind on these things. We have apparently reached such a state of collective prurience that according that Sky News poll, 4 out of 5 of us are opposed to the courts protecting the right of individuals to keep their sex lives private. But why? What, for instance, does the now famous affair of Sir Fred Goodwin have to do with us? What is the ‘public interest’ in our knowing that it happened? There is none at all. I have heard it argued, surely ludicrously, that it may have rendered him (presumably in a state of advanced erotic stupor) inattentive to his duties as Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland. But this is absurd; the downfall of the RBS was brought about by his greed and faulty financial judgment, not his personal life—the self-righteous comments of some papers about which are simply nauseating. Consider the following, from The Daily Mail:

“What is truly appalling…. is the way we are belatedly learning about Sir Fred’s [extra-marital affair]: it is not because the judge who originally granted the injunction came to his senses, recognised the public interest and lifted the gagging order.

“Rather a Lib Dem peer and an MP, both shocked to discover what was being kept secret, used Parliamentary privilege first to reveal that Sir Fred had an injunction then, yesterday, disclose most of its contents.

“Given the absurdity of this situation, the Mail and other newspapers went to the High Court to request the injunction be lifted, so the full truth could be known.

“Sir Fred, with little left to lose, consented. Yet the courts — which have used Labour’s Human Rights Act to create a backdoor privacy law — last night still refused to allow us to name his mistress.”

This is ludicrous, of course; there is no “public interest”; and the courts have created no “backdoor privacy law”: it is Parliament which enacted that privacy is a human right. The judges have a duty to enforce that. And the name of his mistress is no business of ours, any more than Sir Fred’s adulterous behaviour was. We have a right to know about his greed and faulty judgment, for that led to his failure as a banker and to the burden laid on us as taxpayers as a result: about his concupiscence, we had no right to be told anything whatever. I am sorry that we were. And I am even sorrier to be living in a society where, apparently, so few people agree with me.

  • DB McGinnity

    I take the Alan Clark approach to extra marital affairs. His idea was, what is the point in having an affair if you have to keep it secret. When he was challenged by a tabloid newspaper about having sex with three different women concurrently, he replied: Oh! I thought it was more than that!. After then the press left him alone.

    The thought of going through life with only one sexual partner is absurd. The real problem is the priggish British culture. In Paris a politician or celebrity could be having sex openly in the Champs-Élysées or the Via della Concilliazone in Rome and no one would give a damn. That is the advantage of living in good old Roman Catholic countries is that they have a better quality of deviance and there is true genuine hypocrisy.

    The foolish thing about illicit sexual conduct, is to try and hide it. A good Irish friend was having a spot of difficulty in his marriage and wanted to talk to me about it. He said “The wife doesn’t understand me at all, she won’t allow me to go out with other women”. Initially this sounds stupid, but in pragmatic terms it is not stupid, and people on the continent are generally more mature and understanding that having sex is good fun.

    The premise of this article reminds me of Monsignor Dooley who said that he would protect a paedophile priest. By Claire McNeilly Thursday, 18 March 2010. He had a similar view about other people (catholic priests) perversions were no one else’s business.
    Read more:

  • Ben Trovato

    DBM – What a very thoughtless comment: “The thought of going through life with only one sexual partner is absurd.”  The thought may seem absurd to you, but those of us who commit to that and stick to it find that the reality of fidelity is different: it is the way to both lasting peace on this earth and salvation – it is a vocation to be lived, for better or for worse; and it contains joyful, sorrowful, luminous and glorious mysteries.  It is also, clearly, a fundamental part of a truly Catholic moral life.  Christ did not tell the woman taken in adultery: ‘Of course sex is good fun; carry on!”  No, His message was clear: “Go and sin no more!”

    “The foolish thing about illicit sexual conduct, is to try and hide it.”  No, the foolish thing about illicit sexual conduct is to indulge in it.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Mr Oddie, you are wrong.  This is not about whether we have a right to know about the sex lives of footballers, but whether or not a judge sitting in secret can deny us the right to know of it.  There is a difference, because as Ian Hislop said, it is not important if some slapper sleeps with a footballer, but we can be sure that there will be cases where we are denied the right to know notwithstanding a legitimate public interest.  If you want a privacy law, then get Parliament to pass one, and if a newspaper takes its chances on breaching it, then it will have to pay restitutionary damages.  But to have a Star Chamber deciding in secret based on principles made up by unelected officials is just not on in a democracy.  I dont believe the huge outcry, Twitter campaign et al was because people care who sleeps with whom, but because they dont like to be told what they can and can’t know. And thats a legitimate complaint. 

  • DB McGinnity

    Mr Oddie was being allegorical and not strictly referring to bankers or footballers.  I think he was suggesting that we have no right to know if Roman Catholic Clerics sexually abuse children. In effect, I suspect that he was agreeing with Monsignor Dooley

    Monsignor says he would protect a paedophile priest
    By Claire McNeillyThursday, 18 March 2010
    Read more:

  • Michelle Eves

    I’m surprised to read Mr Oddies comments but perhaps I shouldn’t be as the Roman church I suspect would be a great client petitioner of the courts.

    He is wrong in many respects. One being that it is not a judge made law when that is exactly what it is. He states parliament as its sanctioner as if this were a democratic institution when it has doesn’t enjoy post war democratic popularity and often acts against the will of free and democratic people. Look at the issue of the eu to decide that.
    What parliament undemocratically passed was the human rights acts from which Judges promogulate this privacy law.

    A pity he states the Roman catechism book of indoctrinations as a test of authenticity when it is a ludicrous proposition servings only to draw one away from the very essence of all life’s teachings which of course is the Holy Bible.

  • Parasum

    “Do you know the name of the footballer who had an affair with a very
    pretty young woman described as a “Big Brother star” or “Welsh model”?”

    No – not interested, sorry.

    “We have a right to know about his greed and faulty judgment, for that
    led to his failure as a banker and to the burden laid on us as taxpayers
    as a result: about his concupiscence, we had no right to be told
    anything whatever.”

    Well said.

     “I am sorry that we were. And I am even sorrier to be
    living in a society where, apparently, so few people agree with me.”” 

    I think a lot of readers will agree with you, even if they don’t post to say so