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A British newspaper has been banned from publishing allegations of sexual harassment and racial abuse against a leading businessman by former staff and colleagues.
The Telegraph has been subjected to a court injunction granted to the businessman on Tuesday, which prevents it from revealing the allegations or naming him, in revelations the newspaper claimed "would be sure to reignite the #MeToo movement." #MeToo is the social media campaign that started after dozens of women accused Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment.
On Wednesday, The Telegraph reported that the Court of Appeal's interim injunction order said the businessman had used non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to cover up "discreditable conduct." In five cases, "substantial payments" were made to five people as part of settlements.
Under media law in England and Wales, courts can stop publication of stories it deems are not in the public interest and to cover someone's right to privacy. In 2011, U.K. soccer player Ryan Giggs obtained an injunction preventing The Sun newspaper from publishing details of an alleged affair, but Twitter users outed the story, and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named him in Parliament, using parliamentary privilege to do so.
In The Telegraph's case, the Court of Appeal ruled that the publication could not publish the story because it would break the businessman's confidential non-disclosure agreements.
"The ruling said that at this interim stage the judges concluded it is 'likely' the businessman may establish that his right to keep these matters confidential may outweigh any public interest, adding 'there is a real prospect that publication by the Telegraph will cause immediate, substantial and possibly irreversible harm to all of the Claimants,'" The Telegraph's Investigations Editor Claire Newell wrote in the paper's front-page lead.
The Telegraph said it had interviewed more than two dozen of the businessman's staff and associates, who alleged bullying as well as more serious accusations of sexual harassment and racism, and that some people had signed NDAs. If those people broke their agreements, they could face legal action as well as losing settlement money.
The newspaper added that it if it had been allowed to publish, it would keep the claimants' identities anonymous.
NDAs have come under scrutiny as a way to cover up misbehavior. In October 2017, Zelda Perkins, a former Weinstein assistant, publicly broke her agreement and in March called for NDAs to be reformed, as "they are used abusively and within the law."
In July, the High Court ruled that the publication of the allegations against the businessman in The Telegraph would be in the public interest, outweighing the confidentiality agreements, but the case was immediately appealed. On Tuesday, the businessman was granted a temporary injunction at the Court of Appeal, which prevents publication — for now. The court ordered that the case go to trial.