Dani Laidley sues Victoria Police over photographs taken at a racing outing and shared online

November 4, 2022 |

One of the misconceptions in privacy law is that once a person steps into a public place there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.  That is not, in and of itself correct under Australian, New Zealand,  UK and European law. That was made abundantly clear in the seminal 2004 House of Lords decision of Campbell v MGN Limited [2004] UK 22.  Naomi Campbell sued when she was photographed leaving a Narcotics Aonymous meeting in 2001.

Dani Laidley has reportedly sued Victoria Police over photographs allegedly taken of her in November 2020 at the Geelong Racecourse by a police officer.  She alleges those photographs were shared online.  The pleadings are not to hand so it is not possible to comment on the causes of action pleaded however the report in the Nine Papers claim there is a claim of a breach of duty.  Australia does not have a common law cause of action for harassment although the Gummow and Hayne JJ referred to ‘what may be a developing tort of harassment’ in ABC v Lenah Game Meats 2001] HCA 63; (2001) .  That was 21 years ago and the development of the law has stalled.  All the more reason for a statutory tort for interference with privacy which may cover issues arising from harassment.

The story in WA Today provides:

Former North Melbourne coach Dani Laidley is suing Victoria Police after she was covertly photographed at Geelong Racecourse last year, alleging she was humiliated and left open to ridicule when the images were circulated online.

Laidley alleges she was photographed by an unknown police officer while with friends and her partner, Donna Leckie, at a November 6, 2021 race meeting. She claims the images – along with transphobic comments – were widely circulated on social media by members of Victoria Police.

Laidley is suing the force for injury and damages, and alleges the officers committed misfeasance – failure to discharge public obligations – by circulating the image online.

Victoria Police said in a statement that it was yet to receive the writ and that it would be “vehemently defending the allegations”.

“This matter was extensively investigated at the time and no evidence was found to suggest any Victoria Police members, either on- or off-duty, were involved,” the statement said.

“As part of our internal investigation all members working at the event where the image was taken were contacted and investigated.”

Police said they were unable to substantiate any claims that a member was involved.

In legal documents filed with the Supreme Court, Laidley alleges police officers breached their duty of care to her by taking photographs and circulating them, exposing her to humiliation and ridicule. Her claim says they ought to have known the images would be widely circulated online.

“The nature of the first and second photographs and the words communicated by police officers of and concerning the plaintiff were such as to invite and expose the plaintiff to humiliation and ridicule,” the documents, written by her lawyers, state.

“The photograph and the words communicated by police officers of and concerning the plaintiff in this context meant and were understood to mean that the plaintiff, by reason of dressing as and/or identifying as a woman, was deserving of disparagement and ridicule and that she was a ridiculous spectacle.”

The identity of the person who took the photographs is not known. However, Laidley alleges it was either a police officer or someone with a close connection to an officer.

In the days after the photographs were taken, Laidley told The Age it was a shame “that once again Victoria Police has potentially engaged in poor behaviour”, and she was disappointed to learn the photographs had been circulated.

“It goes to show you how much education is still required to allow transgender people to live their lives without barriers,” Laidley said in November last year.

This is the second time the former North Melbourne coach and player has taken legal action against Victoria Police after she was secretly photographed.

In May 2020, she was photographed while being interviewed by officers inside St Kilda police station, following her arrest for stalking. Laidley was wearing a wig and make-up at the time, and the image was widely circulated online.

The 55-year-old sued the force over the photograph taken inside the police station, and in March this year she received a confidential financial settlement from Victoria Police.

Three police officers were charged with criminal offences over the St Kilda station incident, but ultimately had their charges dropped or struck out. Other officers were disciplined internally by the force.

Some police officers were ordered to pay up to $3000 each in compensation to Laidley as part of an internal disciplinary process related to the leaking of the photos.

Laidley, a 1996 premiership player with North Melbourne, went on to become a senior coach for seven years before being inducted into the club’s hall of fame.

She was charged with stalking a former partner and drug possession in May 2020, but no conviction was recorded when she agreed to be of good behaviour and complete a drug rehabilitation program.

Laidley could not be contacted on Thursday night.

Victoria Police has been contacted for comment.

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