Beckileaks: hacked emails tarnish Beckham’s reputation, and highlight weakness of UK gag orders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 9:00pm

A British high court injunction blocking the publication of footballer David Beckham’s hacked personal emails has been rendered worthless after a consortium of European media outlets from Romania to France published anyway.

Beckham’s team expressed deep frustration that “stolen information”, which had been prohibited from publication by the high court, had come to light, and that it was no longer possible to keep the information confidential.

In December, the high court had accepted that emails written by Beckham and his PR advisers were stolen from a Portuguese company associated with Beckham’s spokesman, Simon Oliveira, and issued an injunction preventing The Sunday Times from publishing.

However, several media organisations, including Germany’s Der Spiegel and France’s L’Equipe published details of the cache at the weekend. They reported how Beckham was angry at not being granted a knighthood in 2013, that the honours committee was concerned about his tax affairs, and that he was annoyed to be asked for a major cash donation to Unicef, of which he is a global ambassador.

British newspapers including The Sun and the Daily Mail publishedtheir own stories soon afterwards despite the injunction. “It is a weakness in the law,” said one source close to Beckham.

“Because it is across multiple jurisdictions, it is almost impossible to do anything of substance.”

“This illustrates one of the difficulties in obtaining injunctions in a globalised, internet-based society,” said Sara Mansoori, media barrister at Matrix Chambers. “The other option is for claimants to seek injunctions in all different jurisdictions but that is not a practical way to proceed for anybody.”

One of the first stories came on Friday, when an article appeared on a Romanian website, the Black Sea, which was described as “published with the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network, with research by The Sunday Times”.

It detailed Beckham’s “angry pursuit of a knighthood”, including how he described the honours committee as “a bunch of c****” after he was overlooked for the honour.

It also examined how Beckham’s advisers discussed billing Unicef for a business class flight to Cambodia for a trip as part of his work as a “goodwill ambassador” – although Beckham’s team have since made clear this did not in the end happen.

It referred to other emails between Beckham and his team about handling the former England captain’s public image and ensuring he remained seen as a man of the people.

While several British newspapers followed up, The Sunday Times published a short front-page report stating: “The Sunday Times has been gagged by an injunction preventing it from reporting details about a celebrity’s personal and professional life. The judge anonymised the individual using initials. The newspaper is in legal proceedings.”

The Daily Mail dedicated four pages to the “shame of Saint Becks,” and the affair has been dubbed “Beckileaks” in the British media, although the Daily Mirror said that Beckham had been a victim of a “blackmail plot to shame footie hero”.

Some of the published emails were doctored by hackers, it is understood, including the insertion of extra swearwords, Beckham’s team have said. But they confirmed others as genuine, including his insult about the honours committee. However, they stressed such emails were heat-of-the-moment communications between close associates.

The cache also included emails between Oliveira and Beckham about “a red flag” HM Revenue and Customs had put on his nomination for a knighthood due to his involvement in an alleged tax avoidance scheme and Beckham’s exasperation that he had done nothing wrong.

Beckham’s team have voiced particular concern about the release of emails concerning travel and hotel arrangements for his work with Unicef.

“David has raised millions for the charity, he has donated a seven-figure sum, and has done over 40 days a year for Unicef,” said a friend. “He has stuck his neck out.”

A spokesman for the charity said: “We are extremely proud of the 7 Fund [Beckham’s Unicef fund] and all it has achieved for children.”

Doyen Sports, a Portugal-based sister company to Oliveira’s Doyen Global, which represents Beckham, became aware that its server had been hacked in 2015. In early 2016, an unknown individual approached Doyen Sports seeking up to £1million in exchange for not publishing the information.

The company refused to pay and the Portuguese police were alerted. The suspected blackmailer is understood to have gone into hiding and is said to be untraceable.

Known by the nickname “Golden Balls”, the east-London born midfielder shot to fame with Manchester United thanks to his expert free-kick taking and crossing ability. He won six Premier League titles and one Champions League, when Manchester United won the “treble” in 1999.

He is the third most-capped England international, and has global appeal having played for Spain’s Real Madrid and U.S. team L.A. Galaxy. He became as famous off the pitch as he was on it, marrying “Posh Spice” singer Victoria Adams in 1999.

Additional reporting by Reuters