It seems the notorious Pauline Hanson fake nude photos saga is headed for a delicious postscript. Crikey can reveal that bankrupt Sydney paparazzo Jamie Fawcett is preparing to sue News Limited over its failure to honour a verbal and written deal to stump up $15,000 in cash for the pics — $10,000 of which was to be paid to the source, disgraced ex-commando Jack Johnson.
The photos are yet to be formally declared fakes, despite Hanson’s vehement public denials within hours of their publication by the Sunday Telegraph in March. There are a range of theories as to their origin, ranging from Russian dating websites to 70s p-rno mags, although Johnson’s original claims they were taken at the Pelican Bay resort near Coffs Harbour are almost certainly false.
Fawcett charged the Sunday Telegraph a commission of 35 per cent on the $15,000 deal and is now asking that the original contract be honoured. Fawcett says he only learned of the pics’ dubious origin after the Tele deal had been done, claiming he was caught in the middle of Johnson’s and the Telegraph’s dealings. He says the authenticity of the pics is irrelevant to the deal he originally did with the tabloid.
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Papers are expected to be served on News Limited either today or tomorrow.
And in a further twist, Fawcett told Crikey he is also seeking legal opinion on plans to sue News for defamation over its claims that Fawcett and Johnson had conspired to ‘hoax’ the Sydney tabloid. After Johnson’s claims crumbled, the paper splashed with an apology but appeared to hedge its bets on who was to blame.
“I’ve been doing business with them for 15 years — why would I be involved in a hoax?”, said Fawcett.
“It’s time for [Sunday Telegraph editor] Neil Breen to fess up and face the music”, he added.
The new revelations expected to increase pressure on Breen to resign, after the editor staked his reputation on the pics’ authenticity after the initial publication.
Last month, Pauline Hanson announced she had also issued writs against News as a result of the scandal, engaging Stuart Littlemore QC to represent her, despite the Tele’s subsequent apology. Hanson is set to reap up to $280,000 if her case is successful.
The days leading up to the pics’ publication are set to be carefully scrutinised. It is understood that Johnson, who had been searching out a middle man to sell the pics, requested immediate payment from News before handing them over to Sunday Tele picture editor Steve Moorehouse. The paper couldn’t cut Johnson a cheque that day, so Fawcett was asked to provide a guarantee in writing to Johnson.
That guarantee can be read on the Media Watch website and appears to promise Johnson $10,000, pending the signing of a statutory declaration attesting to the photos’ authenticity. The stat dec was never signed.
Fawcett has tried suing the Tele before – in early 2008 – with disastrous results. Fawcett took umbrage after the Tele‘s Sydney Confidential column described him as Australia’s “most disliked freelance photographer”. But expert testimony on News’ behalf from Nicole Kidman led to the case being dismissed, with Fawcett forced to pay $1.5 million in costs. He declared bankruptcy a few months later in August last year.
Fawcett was still negotiating with his lawyers when Crikey called but will soon serve papers via Fawcett Enterprises, a trading company of The Fawcett Family Trust that in turn trades as Photonews International. The web of companies is required as a result of Fawcett’s bankruptcy, with his trustee apparently required to approve the legal action before it lands.
If the case proceeds, it may make for a sordid spectacle, especially if the failed candidate for Beaudesert takes the stand to recount the saga under heavy cross examination from Fawcett’s legal team.
News Limited did not return Crikey’s calls before deadline.