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Sunday 29 May 2011

It should be Imogen Thomas who sues

Giggs is becoming more famous as a legal case study than he ever was as a footballer, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

'What are Ryan Giggs?' enquired a texter to a news programme last week. That listener, like millions of others around the globe, might never have heard of Giggs had the misfortunate eejit not fallen into the hands of lawyers. And not just any old lawyers, but Schillings, the leader in the legal field of what is delicately described as 'reputation management'.

The Schillings website explains: 'We protect those in the public eye from unwarranted intrusions into their personal lives.' And, goodness me, they do so enthusiastically. Founder Keith Schilling is proud to be known as 'The Silencer'.

I had a letter from Schillings once which lived up to the firm's macho reputation. It warned me that there would be hell to pay if in the book I was writing on the Omagh bombing I made certain allegations about someone I will call X. I was so enraged at the implication that I planned to peddle scandal that I became seriously tempted to include what I had never intended to include. But in the end, I replied frostily and accurately that X had merely a walk-on part in the story and that they were wrong if they thought I would respond to threats.

What the letter did achieve was to make me think very ill of X. It's unpleasant to have someone who should know better think you are capable of seeking to ruin their reputation. Which is why it's understandable that Imogen Thomas is angry with Ryan Giggs.

I knew about Miss Thomas, for I followed the 2006 Big Brother of which she was a star. You don't avoid eviction from the house for 86 days unless you're very nice or very nasty, and she seemed very nice.

She was also unusually well-educated for a Big Brother contestant, had a degree in Health Studies and Psychology and spoke fluent Welsh. Had she not been such a looker (Miss Wales, 2003; Sexiest Woman in Wales, 2006) she might have settled down to a humdrum job in Cardiff, but she was in demand as a glamour model and television performer. And so, the nice Miss Thomas began to date celebrities.

Footie bores me senseless, so Manchester United's Giggs had never crossed my radar, but apparently he was thought to be unusually well-behaved as footballers go and a devoted family man. However, the charms of Miss Thomas proved too much for him: she, apparently, thought he was so in love he would leave his wife. And then the Sun heard of the relationship and when they knocked on Miss Thomas's door she rushed to Max Clifford for advice.

He advised her to warn Giggs, "because if you don't talk, and Ryan Giggs doesn't talk, no one will know".

But a frightened Giggs fled to Schillings, who sought a super-injunction. Because judges have been getting a bit pickier on the privacy front, there had to be a better reason than that Giggs's £24 million sponsorship deal might be at risk, so it was explained that he might be threatened with blackmail. Which, of course, he might have been had Miss Thomas been nasty rather than nice.

Miss Thomas's name was on the injunction and within a few days she had the reputation of being a blackmailer and was spending her days hiding and weeping.

Bloggers, tweeters and an MP ensured that a story which might never have come out had Giggs kept his head and trusted a girl who loved him, went global. Westminster is now at loggerheads with judges and there is general uproar over privacy laws versus freedom of speech and the limits of parliamentary privilege. Giggs's threat to sue Twitter and tweeters has made everything worse.

One possible target was the comedian Don Joly, who tweeted 'Frst, shag tart, then silence tart with g(i)gging order, then sue Twitter when normal people talk about it.'

If anyone should sue it should be Miss Thomas, who is not a tart but a vulnerable young woman whose head was turned. Meanwhile, Giggs is reportedly £250,000 (€288,500) down, is being generally mocked and will spend millions of pounds and make enemies of millions of tweeters if he goes ahead and sues.

Miss Thomas pulled herself together and agreed to capitalise on her unwelcome notoriety. Dressed in a Manchester United replica kit, she promoted a special Paddy Power offer of your money back if Barcelona beat United.

'Imogen can't keep quiet and is gagging to tell you about our £50 free bet', said the ads. And then she had to leave her home because of death threats.

At the end of this sorry tale all involved except proponents of free speech are miserable. Ryan Giggs may yet become more famous as a legal case study than he ever was as a footballer.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards