Mr Justice Tugendhat yesterday dismissed a privacy claim against a Telegraph journalist as “extortion” and an “abuse of process”.
Peter Abbey, a former business associate of Lord Coe, falsely claimed that the journalist hacked into his email account. The claims were dismissed by a judge.
Sarah Webb, a media lawyer at Payne Hicks Beach, said the case acted as a “warning” to people attempting to “exploit” the phone hacking scandal.
She said: “He tried to exploit what he perceived as the vulnerability of the press over the phone hacking scandal. He thought judges would be more prepared to believe him, but he was wrong.”
Mr Abbey launched the privacy claim against Andrew Gilligan, a Telegraph journalist who was at the time working for The Evening Standard, and Associated Newspapers.
Mr Abbey was a director at a company which controlled Lord Coe’s image rights. In September 2007, The Evening Standard published extracts of emails in which Mr Abbey admitted the company had “pissed away” £400,000 of Lord Coe’s money.
At the time, Mr Abbey declined to comment on the article and did not complain.
In August 2011, however, as the scale of the phone hacking scandal at the News of The World newspaper emerged, Mr Abbey launched his breach of confidence claim and falsely alleged Mr Gilligan had hacked into his emails.
In fact, the emails were handed to Mr Gilligan by a freelance journalist working on a programme for Channel 4’s dispatches, who had been given them by an undisclosed source.
Mr Justice Tugendhat said: “The fact that he never did report the matter to police supports the inference I draw that he made the threats for the purpose of obtaining a settlement which he did not expect to achieve.
“I find that this was an attempt at extortion, and that it was an abuse of process of the court to attempt to obtain settlement of this claim by that means.”
Mr Gilligan said: “In the end, even though it cost us a lot of money, it might almost be worth it… to have a judgement affirming journalist’s right to print leaked material which is not personal, which has not been obtained illegally… whose publication is strongly in the public interest.”