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Confidentiality - Don't Give In to Threats

If you are facing menacing demands for money, you should take legal advice straight away. In a recent case, the High Court came to the aid of a wealthy married businessman who claimed to have been subjected to blackmail following a brief affair with a work contact.

After meeting the woman in a work context, the businessman went for a drink with her. That broke her employer's rules in respect of customer relations and she was suspended from her job. The businessman supported her through the disciplinary process and their relationship eventually became sexual.

The woman ultimately resigned and took the view that the man was in part to blame for her losing her job. After her demands for financial assistance became increasingly persistent, he received a call from someone claiming to be a journalist intent on exposing his affair, but who he suspected was connected to the woman. Believing the threat of exposure to be credible, he ultimately paid the woman a very substantial sum in return for her signing a strict confidentiality agreement.

However, according to the businessman, matters did not end there. He said that he had been contacted several times by a man claiming to be from a media agency who demanded over £100,000 in return for not publishing the story. The man had denied that he was engaged in extortion or blackmail and said that he was offering to do the businessman a favour in keeping his affair away from the public gaze.

Eventually, the businessman decided to take legal action and a hearing ensued behind closed doors. The businessman's anonymity was strictly protected. The Court found that a good arguable case had been made out that he had been subjected to blackmail and that the woman and the man who had contacted him were acting in league.

The information that the man had threatened to publicly expose related to a sexual relationship that was by its nature private and the businessman also had a strong case that he had suffered a course of conduct that amounted to harassment. The Court issued a stringent interim injunction that forbade both the woman and the man from persisting in such conduct. Breach of the injunction would be a contempt of court, potentially punishable by imprisonment.

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