The BBC car show, Top Gear, has achieved a certain cult status amongst its regular viewers. Included within that is a character called The Stig, who was an anonymous character dressed in a white suit given the job of testing the speeds of new cars since 2003. Well – anonymous until now. The BBC has just lost a High Court bid to get an injunction to stop HarperCollins publishing an autobiography by Ben Collins in which he was going to reveal that he was in fact The Stig.
The High Court agreed with the BBC that the duty of confidentiality would have remained on an on-going basis, and this applied not just to Ben Collins’ service company in contract law but also to Mr Collins in equity. However, it was too late to keep the cat in the bag. Mr Collins’ identity as The Stig had been widely reported in a number of places, so the information was now deemed to have been in the public domain. The Court said the purpose of an interim injunction to protect confidentiality was not merely to punish a defendant for his previous unlawful action but it was to maintain the status quo and protect damage before it was too late. The BBC may, of course, still maintain a right to claim for financial losses arising out of any breach of confidentiality.
If the BBC had been a bit quicker off the mark, there may have been a different result, but it seems that the makers of Top Gear were just not quick enough here. Maybe The Stig himself may have done better if he had been on the BBC’s side in this case?