For eight months, reporters at the British Daily Telegraph worked on an explosive #MeToo story about a well-known businessman accused of sexual harassment and racial abuse.
This week, one of the top judges in England and Wales ruled that the paper could not reveal the name of the alleged perpetrator or the companies for which he worked.
Then, on Thursday, a politician revealed the name of the alleged attacker on the floor of Parliament. Lord Peter Hain told the House of Lords that retail billionaire Philip Green was the subject of the Telegraph piece. Hain said he decided to reveal the name publicly because of the “serious and repeated” nature of the claims.
“Having been contacted by somebody intimately involved in the case of a powerful businessman using nondisclosure agreements and substantial payments to conceal the truth about serious and repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying which is compulsively continuing, I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question, given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of a story which is clearly in the public interest,” Hain said.
Green, a retail tycoon, is the owner of several retail stores including Top Shop. He is worth about $5 billion. Requests for comment from Arcadia Group, of which Green is chairman, were not immediately returned.
The Telegraph’s #MeToo story has been the subject of much conversation this week, raising questions about free speech and the use of nondisclosure agreements.
In granting the temporary injunction, the judge, Sir Terence Etherton, ruled that the businessman was protected because at least five of his alleged victims had signed nondisclosure agreements and received “substantial” payouts. Publishing the allegations would amount to a breach of those deals, the judge wrote. The alleged perpetrator must be given an opportunity, the judge wrote, to show why his anonymity should be protected.
“There is a real prospect that publication by the Telegraph will cause immediate, substantial and possibly irreversible harm to all of the Claimants,” Etherton wrote in an opinion.
The Telegraph argued that the ruling was unfair because the newspaper did not have an agreement with the businessman in question. Its attorneys argued that there was a “clear public interest” in publishing the findings, “not least to alert those who might be applying to work for him.” According to the Telegraph, the businessman spent upward of $600,000 in fees for seven lawyers to fight publication of the piece.
On Wednesday, the Telegraph filled its front page with a story about the story. “The British #MeToo scandal which cannot be revealed,” the headline read.
“The accusations against the businessman, who cannot be identified, would be sure to reignite the #MeToo movement against the mistreatment of women, minorities and others by powerful employers,” the paper wrote in the article.
Critics say nondisclosure agreements are often used to silence critics and hide patterns of bad behavior.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she would like to pass a law restricting the use of these kinds of agreements. On Tuesday, Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons, called the use of gag orders “shocking.” NDAs should not be used “where there are accusations of sexual misconduct and wider bullying,” Miller said.