Celebrity

Madonna and twin daughters awarded damages from Associated Newspapers over invasion of privacy

Madonna visiting schoolchildren in Chorwe, Malawi in 2013. The singer and her adopted twins Stella and Estere have won damages from Associated Newspapers PICTURE: Liz Rosenberg Media/AP

MADONNA and her twin daughters, Stella and Estere, have accepted undisclosed damages from Associated Newspapers over a "serious invasion of privacy".

Madonna, who adopted the four-year-olds in February, brought the case at London's High Court over a January 2017 article which caused her "considerable personal distress and anxiety", solicitor Jenny Afia told Mrs Justice Nicola Davies on Thursday.

It revealed the girls' names, race, age, the fact they lived in an orphanage in Malawi and were the subject of pending applications for adoption by Madonna.

"The MailOnline published it at a time when, as the journalist ought to have appreciated, Madonna would be powerless to protect the girls from harm.

"Their actions could, in her view, have threatened the integrity and/or outcome of the adoption process which would have had potentially life-changing implications for the girls, as well as for Madonna and her family."

Ms Afia said that Associated had made a settlement offer involving the payment of damages and costs, and Madonna would donate the damages to The Mercy James Institute for Paediatric Surgery in Malawi.

"She is pleased that at least some good can come out of the situation."

Ms Afia said that the 58-year-old star, who was not in court, felt she had no option but to take action over what she regarded as a serious invasion of privacy.

Ms Afia said Madonna formally began trying to adopt the girls in January 2017 – and that was information which she closely guarded and wished to remain strictly private and confidential.

This was to protect their safety and prevent any unwarranted interference in or prejudice to the integrity of the legal process involved in seeking their adoption.

"Under Malawian law and equivalent provisions under English law, there are rules around identifying children who are in the process of being adopted, principally for their own security and welfare.

"As an example of the practical implementation of these rules, by order dated 17 January 2017, Malawian judge, Judge Mwale, directed that special measures be taken to protect the girls from coming into contact with the media during a hearing at the High Court of Madonna's petitions for their adoption.

"The girls were to be conveyed by vehicle directly into the judges' car park, to which public entry was restricted, while Madonna would enter the building by the normal means of public access."

She added: "Before the adoption had gone through, on or about 25 or 26 January 2017, one of the defendant's reporters spoke to a government official in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare in Lilongwe, Malawi, seeking information for a story for publication in MailOnline.

"According to that official, she refused the reporter's request to be told the girls' identities and told him that there was a High Court prohibition upon the identities of the girls being divulged owing to their young age.

"Such prohibitions are normal and routine in the United Kingdom and elsewhere for the protection and welfare of children.

"As the reporter certainly knew (as evidenced by his reporting of the fact), prior to their adoption the girls lived in an orphanage in Malawi.

"Malawi is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Africa.

"Many people in Malawi know of Madonna as an individual of fame and financial means.

"They have acquired this knowledge from publicity inside as well as outside Malawi that accompanied her adoptions on two earlier occasions of children from Malawi, her patronage and funding of charitable projects in Malawi and the visits she has made to that country, which have been widely reported.

"In the circumstances, Madonna believes that it would (and should) have been self-evident to the reporter that the protection of the girls' identities pending the decision about their potential adoption was likely to be vital for their safety and welfare; that the safety and welfare of the girls had to be the paramount consideration, even of a journalist and a newspaper, when deciding what information could responsibly, legitimately or lawfully be published; and that the publication of any information about the girls that might lead to their identification as the subject of pending adoption applications by Madonna should not, in any event, be made without the express permission of the High Court and the Children's Guardiana ad Litem, in the case of the children, and of Madonna, in the case of her own right to protect her private and family life and the confidentiality of her adoption proceedings."

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Ms Afia said it was against that background that on or about January 26 2017, without the permission of the High Court or the consent of the girls' guardian-ad-litem or Madonna, Associated published an article which featured different headlines from time to time including: "EXCLUSIVE: Madonna IS trying to adopt four-year-old twins named Stella and Esther from Malawi."

Her law firm, Schillings, issued proceedings on behalf of Madonna and her girls for invasion of privacy and breach of the Data Protection Act.

After the hearing, Ms Afia said: "Madonna brought this litigation because the newspaper threatened her girls' safety by naming them before they were adopted.

"She will always take all possible steps to protect her family's wellbeing."

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