High Court grants interim injunction in relation to harassment and misuse of private information in anonymised blackmail case

The claimant, XLD, is a US citizen working in the financial services industry and the entertainment business. He sometimes makes trips to the UK. He is married and has a child. The defendant, KZL, is a woman whom XLD believes lives near Manchester in England.

In May 2019, XLD accessed a dating website called “Seeking Arrangement” which states that it brings together a “Sugar Daddy” and a “Sugar Baby”. XLD gave evidence that “there is an understanding that the wealthier person (the man or woman) is responsible for paying the other person’s expenses, or, if the relationship is more serious, for improvement in their lifestyle”. XLD was looking to find someone with whom he could socialise on his visits to England. He contacted KZL and they exchanged messages initially via the website and then via WhatsApp. The messages became sexually explicit.

Shortly after the messaging began in May 2019 KZL made her first financial demand. XLD paid via PayPal. KZL’s demands for money persisted. They were supported by threats to tell XLD’s family about his activities. By 14 April 2020 XLD had paid a total of £125,000 to KZL. XLD instructed a private investigator to find information on KZL. The investigator reported that on 24 occasions IP addresses connected with KZL had been blacklisted due to concerns that blackmail demands had been made from them.

XLD issued proceedings for harassment and misuse of private information. He also sought an interim injunction against KZL. The hearing was held in private and in absence of KZL who had not been notified of the proceedings due to the likelihood of her immediately acting on her threat and telling XLD’s family of his activities.

Mr Justice Nicol said that there was a strong prima facie case that KZL had been blackmailing XLD. He also found that XLD was likely to succeed at trial in establishing that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in four categories:

  1. the fact of his visit to the website and his attempt to use the services offered by it;
  2. the fact that he communicated with KZL regarding entering into an agreement and the content of their exchanges;
  • that their communications included sexually explicit WhatsApp messages and their content; and
  1. that XLD was a victim of blackmail and information regarding that.

Nicol J agreed with XLD that sexual activities are a classic example of information in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and which may be protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As for the balance between XLD’s Article 8 rights and KZL’s Article 10 rights, Nicol J held that XLD was likely to establish that the balance (if indeed there was any to be struck) came down firmly in his favour.

As for XLD’s harassment claim, Nicol J noted that there must be a course of conduct and so an element of persistence and the evidence showed that KZL had persisted here. Further, all the ingredients of the tort of harassment, as summarised in Dowson v Chief Constable of Northumbria [2010] EWHC 2612 (QB) were present. In addition, Nicol J said, the evidence that the crime of blackmail had been committed was supportive of XLD’s claim in harassment.

Nicol J granted the interim injunction as XLD was likely to succeed at trial. (XLD v KZL [2020] EWHC 1558 (QB) (17 June 2020) — to read the judgment in full, click here).