Why The Stig beat the BBC

PAUL WHITTINGHAM, a partner at Ashton Graham, examines the recent high-profile case concerning the duty of confidentiality, with or without a contract

“SOME say ... that The Stig should not have revealed his identity.”

Fans of the BBC TV show Top Gear may be pleased to see a new series under way, complete with a new “Stig”.

The Stig is the “tame racing driver” who track-tests cars and whose identity had always been a secret until it was finally revealed last year.

This revelation gave rise to an interesting High Court case resulting from the BBC’s attempt to get an injunction to prevent disclosure of the real name of The Stig and the publication of his book.

The BBC sought an injunction against Ben Collins (The Stig), HarperCollins (the company which was publishing his book), and a service company of Ben Collins (through which he had provided his services to the BBC).

The use of the service company caused some of the difficulty for the BBC. It put clauses in the contracts, which said: “You …must not disclose information about the programme or your contribution to the programme.”

Most Read

Taken literally, that would mean that the service company could not reveal its own identity. The judge interpreted it to mean that the service company could not reveal its name or the name of Ben Collins as being The Stig.

The problem was that Ben Collins himself was not a party to the contract and, therefore, he was under no personal contractual duty of confidentiality.

There is, however, a duty of confidentiality, which can arise outside of a contractual situation where confidential information is shared with someone on the understanding that it is to kept confidential. The judge took the view that Ben Collins was subject to such a duty.

Despite this, the judge said that he could not grant an injunction against Ben Collins now because his identity as The Stig was already in the public domain, having been revealed in newspaper articles.

The BBC also applied to prevent the publication of the book. It argued that as Ben Collins was presumed to be the initial source of the leak, he should not be allowed to profit from his earlier breach of confidentiality.

This was also refused on the grounds that publication of the book would not do additional harm now that the secrecy had gone and would amount to punishment of Collins, not protection for the BBC.

“And on that bombshell, good night”

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. You should not act or rely upon this information.

Ashton Graham is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. Ashton Graham Solicitors is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority No. 50075