Ben Stokes and his mother, Deborah, have launched legal action against the Sun, after the newspaper last month published a front-page story detailing a family tragedy involving the England cricketer.
The case is listed as being an intellectual property claim, relating to copyright, but it is likely to also take into account wider issues around privacy. It could challenge several precedents, given the Sun piece on the cricketer’s family was based on historical press reports and included an interview with family members.
The proceedings, part of a wider trend of celebrities and prominent individuals taking legal action against British media outlets, were issued at the high court at the end of September, according to legal filings first reported by Byline Investigates. However, it is unclear whether papers have been formally served on Sun publisher News Group Newspapers, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
A spokesperson for the Sun declined to comment on the case. The newspaper’s original “world exclusive” story, carrying the byline of reporter Nick Parker, has been removed from its online edition and replaced with a web address referencing legal issues, while tweets from the Sun’s account about the story have been deleted.
News Group Newspapers, which also owns the defunct News of the World, is already being sued by Prince Harry over alleged phone hacking, while it is dealing with its role in the row between Coleen Rooney and fellow footballer’s wife Rebekah Vardy over the the alleged leak of private information to the Sun.
The Sun’s original story described in detail events in New Zealand 31 years ago when Deborah Stokes’s ex-husband killed their two children before taking his own life. Ben Stokes, who is favourite to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year, said the article was “despicable” and, following a public backlash, the newspaper failed to follow up its exclusive with additional reporting.
The legal proceedings were filed before photographs were published this week showing Stokes appearing to grab his wife’s face at an awards event, an incident she described as “nonsense”. Stokes is using the same legal firm who successfully defended him in his criminal case for affray last summer.
At the time of publication the Sun defended the decision to publish the story about Stokes’s family, pointing out that the case had been widely covered by New Zealand media when it occurred 31 years ago and it had requested comment.
It said: “The Sun has the utmost sympathy for Ben Stokes and his mother but it is only right to point out the story was told with the cooperation of a family member who supplied details, provided photographs and posed for pictures. The tragedy is also a matter of public record and was the subject of extensive front-page publicity in New Zealand at the time.
“The Sun has huge admiration for Ben Stokes and we were delighted to celebrate his sporting heroics this summer. He was contacted prior to publication and at no stage did he or his representatives ask us not to publish the story.”