A Scottish newspaper has become the first UK media outlet to reveal the identity of the Premiership footballer being linked to a hugely controversial privacy case.
The Sunday Herald newspaper broke ranks yesterday and published a thinly-concealed front page photograph of the star – whom English news media are still not allowed to name – with his eyes blacked out and the word “censored” across his face.
The newspaper said the court injunction which prevents the player from being identified does not apply in Scotland.
The injunction was originally issued to gag Big Brother star Imogen Thomas and the media from naming the player over an alleged affair. The married star, who is referred to only by the initials CTB in court documents, is said to have had a sexual relationship with Ms Thomas.
He is one of several married Premiership footballers who has taken out an injunction in recent months to prevent allegations of affairs being published.
But thousands of people have now posted messages on the social networking website Twitter allegedly naming the star as the subject of the gagging order.
On Friday the player launched High Court proceedings against Twitter itself, as well as “persons unknown” who use the site – despite the firm which owns it being based in California.
The player has already been named by the Spanish Press, but yesterday’s Sunday Herald front page was the first time he had been identified by mainstream news media here in the UK.
Beneath the full-page picture, the newspaper wrote: “Everyone knows this is the footballer accused of using the courts to keep allegations of a sexual affair secret – but we weren’t supposed to tell you that”.
In an editorial, the Sunday Herald said it was “unsustainable” for newspapers not to be able to print information which is available on the internet.
It said: “We should point out immediately that we are not accusing the footballer concerned of any misdeed. Whether the allegations against him are true or not has no relevance to this debate.
“The issue is one of freedom of information and of a growing argument in favour of more restrictive privacy laws.”
Concern has been growing over recent weeks about the increasing use of gagging orders by celebrities and high-profile public figures.
Information about some of the injunctions and so-called super-injunctions is widely available on the internet, yet newspapers are still not allowed to identify the people involved.
Richard Walker, editor of the Sunday Herald, said: “It seems to us a ludicrous situation where we are supposed to keep from our readers the identity of someone who anybody can find out on the internet at the click of a mouse – and in fact many people have already done so.”
He was not expecting any legal consequences because the injunction was not valid in Scotland – only in England.
He said his newspaper was not sold or distributed in England and that its website is not carrying the picture of the player.
Paul McBride, the paper’s lawyer, said: “Every child in the country with a mobile phone can now access Twitter or the internet and find out who this individual is.
“The idea that the media cannot report it is frankly absurd.”
He insisted the decision to reveal the player’s identity was not taken for commercial reasons, but “on grounds of principle”.
He said: “We have the right of freedom of expression and the right to debate these issues.
“I think the publication in today’s paper will bring the matter to a head.”
Media lawyer Mark Stephens said the player had already been named in other countries and that it was “an exercise in futility” to try to continue with the injunctions.
On Friday, the findings of a year-long inquiry by a committee of judges and lawyers into the use of gagging orders were published.
The committee’s report said super-injunctions are being granted only where “secrecy is necessary”.
But chairman Lord Neuberger admitted the internet was creating “difficulties” for the enforcement of such orders.