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The Sun pays 'substantial damages' to Ben Stokes and his mother

The Sun pays ‘substantial damages’ to Ben Stokes and his mother after ‘privacy’ claim over report on family tragedy – despite story being widely reported in New Zealand press in the 1980s

  • Deborah Stokes launched legal action over September 2019 front-page article 
  • Newspaper initially defended itself, saying story was already in public domain 
  • But has now apologised to Stokes family and agreed to pay costs and damages

The Sun has agreed to pay ‘substantial damages’ to Ben Stokes and his mother following its story about a family tragedy.

Deborah Stokes launched a legal action over the September 2019 front-page article headlined ‘tragedy that haunts Stokes’ family’, arguing that it exposed private information in a manner that was not in the public interest.

The newspaper initially defended its actions, noting that the story had been widely covered in New Zealand media in the 1980s so was already in the public domain. It added that the article had been published with the cooperation of another family member.

However, the tabloid has now apologised before the case reached court, agreed to cover the family’s legal costs and issued a statement saying the story ‘should not have been published’.

Ben Stokes called the Sun article ‘immoral and heartless’. Pictured: Stokes with his parents, Deborah and Gerard 

Stokes’ half-brother, Andrew, four, and sister, Tracey, eight, were killed by their father, Richard Dunn, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1988. He then shot himself dead.

After it was covered by The Sun, the England cricketer took to social media to call the coverage ‘immoral and heartless’.

Had the case gone to court it would have rested on a balancing act between the right to privacy and free expression, according to Carole Watson, a lecturer in Media Law at Sunderland University.

She told MailOnline: ‘In law it all comes down to the fact that everyone has a right to privacy over their private lives under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

‘That’s only been with us for about 20 years and its being used all the time now by high-profile celebrities and sports stars are using it to suppress stories or sue for damages once they’ve been published.

‘Meanwhile, the Sun would be relying on Article 10, freedom of expression. Their case was that this story was already in the public domain. It looked like this was coming to court and the lawyers at News UK seem to have decided it was not a sufficient argument.’

The tabloid has now apologised before the case reached court, agreed to cover the family’s legal costs and issued a statement saying the story ‘should not have been published’

The lecturer said that in this case there were likely to be other considerations beyond legal ones.

‘There’s some stories when if the person is really popular as a sports star it’s not worth the battle for PR reasons.’

Deborah Stokes said in a statement reported by the Guardian: ‘The decision to publish this article was a decision to expose, and to profit from exposing, intensely private and painful matters within our family.

‘The suffering caused to our family by the publication of this article is something we cannot forgive.’

The Sun said: ‘On 17 September 2019 we published a story titled ”Tragedy that Haunts Stokes” Family’ which described a tragic incident that had occurred to Deborah Stokes, the mother of Ben Stokes, in New Zealand in 1988.

‘The article caused great distress to the Stokes family, and especially to Deborah Stokes. We should not have published the article. We apologise to Deborah and Ben Stokes. We have agreed to pay them damages and their legal costs.’ 

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