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Celebrity victims' record damages

Published 21/05/2015

Shobna Gulati was one of the complainants in the phone hacking civil case against Mirror Group Newspapers
Shobna Gulati was one of the complainants in the phone hacking civil case against Mirror Group Newspapers
Former footballer Paul Gascoigne was one of the complainants in the phone hacking civil case against Mirror Group Newspapers

Record damages have been awarded to celebrity phone hacking victims - including former footballer Paul Gascoigne and actress Sadie Frost - as the High Court heard that dozens more claims are in the pipeline.

A judge in London awarded a total of around £1.2 million to eight individuals in actions against Mirror Group Newspapers, which lawyers described as "unparalleled".

Frost, who was present in court, received the highest sum of £260,250, with ex-England footballer Gascoigne getting £188,250.

After the figures were announced, Mr Justice Mann was told that about 70 other claims were outstanding, and that a further ten had settled.

A string of celebrities, politicians and others have previously received payouts over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. Settlements included £130,000 for actor Jude Law, £100,000 for actress Sienna Miller, £40,000 to Lord Prescott, and £50,000 to Ms Frost.

After today's ruling, Trinity Mirror, which owns MGN, said it was considering an appeal, but revealed it had set aside a further £4 million to cover the cost of more claims, taking the total to £16 million.

The awards followed a three-week hearing in March to determine the extent of the wrongdoing at the group and what level of compensation was appropriate.

Mr Justice Mann also awarded £85,000 to TV executive Alan Yentob, £117,500 and £157,250 respectively to actresses Shobna Gulati and Lucy Taggart, and £155,000 to soap star Shane Richie.

TV producer Robert Ashworth, who was married to actress Tracy Shaw, received £201,250, and flight attendant Lauren Alcorn, who had a relationship with soccer star Rio Ferdinand, was awarded £72,500.

The judge said the victims had all suffered "serious infringements of their privacy rights".

Gerald Shamash, solicitor for Gascoigne, said his client was relieved that the judge "has recognised, in his lengthy and detailed judgment, the sustained and intrusive impact that MGN's repeated publication of his private information had on his life, family and friends".

"It was important for Paul to bring an action against MGN in order to find out as much as possible about what had gone on."

The lawyer said Gascoigne was "relieved to have finally found out that his private information was hacked, resulting in many articles that grossly intruded into his private life, rather than having been leaked by someone close to him".

Frost's solicitor, Mark Thomson of Atkins Thomson, said she was "thrilled with the outcome".

He added: "It was important for Sadie to bring an action against MGN in order to find out as much as possible about what had gone on. She accepts, reluctantly, that she will never know the full extent of the unlawful activities by MGN but is relieved to have finally found out that her private information was hacked rather than having been leaked by someone close to her."

In a statement, Trinity Mirror said it had a ccepted it needed to compensate phone hacking victims, but added: "However, our initial view of the lengthy judgment is that the basis used for calculating damages is incorrect and we are therefore considering whether to seek permission to appeal.

"There remains uncertainty as to how matters will progress. As the legal process has taken longer and the costs of settling claims is likely to be higher than previously anticipated, we are increasing our provision to deal with matters arising from phone hacking by £16 million. This is in addition to the £12 million provided in 2014."

The judge's ruling will provide a framework for resolving similar civil actions in the pipeline.

In previous hearings, David Sherborne, counsel for the eight claimants, described hacking as ''rife'' across all three of the group's national titles by mid-1999.

It involved the systematic gathering of private information for profit, using illegal means, and it was that context in which damages should be assessed by the judge, who faced an ''unparalleled'' task.

He asked for damages which took into account distress, loss of personal autonomy, and the affront to dignity, and also reflected any increased injury to feelings caused by the conduct of the litigation, and the need for deterrence.

But MGN's counsel, Matthew Nicklin QC, said the claim that the victims suffered ''unparalleled'' harm was wrong and there was no reason why compensation for distress caused by misuse of private information should go beyond that awarded in other types of litigation.

Earlier in the year, Trinity Mirror published a ''sincere and unreserved'' apology for the voicemail interception, saying it ''was unlawful and should never have happened''.

Daniel Taylor, of Taylor Hampton, solicitors who represented three of the eight victims, said: ''Today's judgment represents a milestone in the development of privacy law in the UK and the awarding of six-figure damages is truly historic and unparalleled, on a scale much greater than has ever been awarded previously.''

James Heath, of Atkins Thomson, said the damages were "greater than any other publicly available award" in a privacy case and more substantial than in many libel cases.

He said he was "currently co-ordinating a large number of other claims being brought against Mirror Group Newspapers, and anticipate many more to come".

Ms Frost said outside court: "It has been a very difficult time and a time to reflect. I am relieved this is at an end and justice has been done."

After the hearing Ms Taggart said: "It has been a very stressful time - seven years. I am just glad it is all over and I have got a smile on my face."

Ms Gulati said: "I am really pleased to put it behind me. I didn't want to talk about it in the first place."

She said that the effect on her family had been "a big one".

Mr Justice Mann said that the size of the awards was explained by the "length, degree and frequency" of the hacking.

In a complex 224-page ruling, the judge said that the pay-outs were far more substantial than in any hitherto reported privacy case, and more substantial than in many libel cases.

This resulted from the invasions of privacy involved being "so serious and so prolonged".

"None of the articles in respect of which I have awarded compensation would - on the admitted case - have been published had it not been for the underlying prolonged phone hacking that went on, which was known to be wrongful.

"That hacking existed in all cases whether or not an article resulted. The length, degree and frequency of all this conduct explains why the sums I have awarded are so much greater than historical awards.

"People whose private voicemail messages were hacked so often and for so long, and had very significant parts of their private lives exposed, and then reported on, are entitled to significant compensation."

All of the awards exceeded the previous highest sum given by a UK court in a privacy case - the £60,000 won by former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who successfully sued the now defunct News of the World in 2008.

Mr Justice Mann said he was completely satisfied that the emotions felt and expressed by the claimants were "genuine, not exaggerated and entirely justified".

"They all spoke of their personal distress and anxiety of seeing articles published about them. This was, in the main, great.

"Their evidence on this was convincing and I accept it."

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