THE estranged wife of the Marquess of Northampton has brought a privacy claim over phone conversations secretly recorded by her elderly father’s live-in partner and given to the peer.
Mr Justice Tugendhat, at London’s High Court, said the case was “quite unlike” any other proceedings he had come across.
The judge had been asked by 65-year-old Lord Northampton to transfer the action for breach of confidence and misuse of private information, brought by his fifth wife, Pamela, and her 86-year-old father, James Haworth, to the Family Division to be consolidated with ongoing divorce proceedings.
Lady Northampton, who married Spencer Compton, the 7th Marquess, in December 1990, and Mr Haworth want substantial damages – including aggravated and exemplary damages – from her husband, who filed for divorce in November, and Suzanne Shipwright, who has lived with Mr Haworth for many years and made the recordings from October to December last year.
Their counsel, Gavin Millar QC, said the decision to initiate proceedings for breach of confidence was not taken lightly, but there was “genuine anger” on their part against Lord Northampton and the woman who, but for marriage, would have been Lady Northampton’s step-mother.
Any compensation would not compare to the sums involved in the family proceedings, but the action involved important rights to privacy and confidentiality which would risk being lost in the matrimonial litigation if it was transferred, he added.
Lord Northampton had received and listened to hours of Mr Haworth’s private conversations, of which only a tiny proportion might be relevant to financial matters.
Bruce Blair QC, who is representing Lady Northampton, who is currently abroad, in the divorce, said she only fully learnt about the “disgracefully-obtained information” in April. He added that no defences had been served, and there could not really be a defence to the claims.
The judge said “I have great difficulty in understanding what the dispute is about.”