More than £1 million in damages has been awarded to celebrities including Paul Gascoigne and Sadie Frost over phone hacking by Mirror Group Newspapers.
The ex-England footballer was awarded £188,250 in damages at the High Court and actress Frost received £260,250.
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.Mr Shamash
Lawyers for phone-hacking victims claimed today’s payouts, totalling around £1.2 million, were “unparalleled”.
Eight damages awards were announced at London’s High Court today after 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 a “serious infringement of privacy” and the scale of hacking was “very substantial indeed”.
The judge’s ruling will provide a framework for resolving similar civil actions in the pipeline.
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.”
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.
Mr Nicklin said: ‘’Whilst these claimants should never have been subjected to the actions of some of the defendant’s employees, the hurt they have been caused bears no comparison with that of many who come before the courts.’’
No one had suffered personal harm and the hurt caused to a phone-hacking victim was not quantitatively different in terms of assessment, from that suffered in other kinds of cases, such as harassment, intimidation, victimisation, bullying or discrimination, he said.
‘’Whilst no doubt they are genuinely shocked and upset and, in some cases, angry, for what happened to them, these feelings will pass. However serious they are, they will not have blighted their lives,’’ he added.
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’’.
In a trading update, it said the cost of resolving civil claims would be ‘’higher than previously envisaged’’ and it was increasing the provision for dealing with them by £8 million to £12 million.
Taggart, who was in court with Frost and Gulati, said: “Nothing can take away or repair the damage that was caused to me both personally and professionally and the impact it had on my friends, family and relationships at that time.
“The damages, although welcome, can never repair the hurt that was caused.
“I hope this judgment sends the apppropriate message with regard to the behaviour of the tabloid press going forward and how they obtain stories.”
Referring to her former EastEnders colleague and partner, she added: “I would like to thank Steve McFadden for his support during the trial.”
Frost’s solicitor, Mark Thomson of Atkins Thomson, said: “I have been asked by my client, Sadie Frost, to say that she is thrilled with the outcome of today.
“Whilst Sadie would have preferred not to have come to court to relive painful experiences, having been left with no option by MGN, she is relieved that the judge has recognised, in his lengthy and detailed judgment, the sustained and intrusive impact that MGN’s repeated publication of her private information had on her life and her family.
“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.
“My client now wants to put this matter behind her and will not be making any further comment.”
James Heath, of Atkins Thomson, said: “The judge found that phone hacking by Mirror Group’s newspapers was widespread, institutionalised and long standing. He found there to be intrusion into the private lives of the claimants, which ranged from ‘serious’ to ‘enormous’.
“The very substantial awards of damages reflect this gross intrusion. They are greater than any other publicly available award of damages in a privacy case and more substantial than in many libel cases, ranging from £72,500 for Lauren Alcorn to £260,250 for Sadie Frost.
“The high awards in these cases reflect the serious and repeated intrusions into the claimants’ privacy and the lasting impact that it has had on their lives.
“Understandably, a lot of the claimants involved in this trial were reluctant to come to court to relive difficult periods in their lives and to speak of their horror, distaste and distress at the discovery that Mirror group journalists had been listening, on a regular and frequent basis, to all sorts of aspects of their private lives.
“It is therefore a great relief to them that the judge has recognised the grave impact the unlawful activity of MGN had on their lives and that the emotions they felt were genuine, not exaggerated and entirely justified.
“Until relatively recently, Mirror Group firmly and publicly denied knowledge of any phone hacking activities at any of its titles. Its conduct in these claims have been criticised and the apologies it finally made to these claimants, and all other victims of its phone hacking activities, were found to be, at least in part, tactical.
“It has taken a brave and determined group of claimants to finally bring this newspaper group to account. It has been a long and drawn out battle to bring this initial phase of the litigation to a conclusion and the claimants are pleased to be able to finally close this difficult chapter in their lives.
“As for the future of this litigation, I am currently co-ordinating a large number of other claims being brought against Mirror Group Newspapers, and anticipate many more to come.
“A case management conference for new cases is being arranged for as soon as possible, in order to enable the judge to decide how to manage the much larger second wave.”
Gerald Shamash, solicitor for Gascoigne, said: “Paul would have much preferred not to have come to court to relive painful experiences which he was prepared to do.
“He was frustrated that MGN chose not to cross-examine him so that he could explain in detail the awful impact the hacking of his phone has had upon him, his family and close friends, his health and general well-being.”
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.”
An update published on behalf of Trinity Mirror plc said: “We note the judgment released today by Mr Justice Mann following the conclusion of the civil trial for the assessment of damages for eight representative claimants arising from phone hacking.
“Our subsidiary MGN Limited has already accepted that it should pay appropriate compensation to individuals who were the target of phone hacking. 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 board is confident that the exposures arising from these historic events are manageable and do not undermine the delivery of the group’s strategy for growth.
“Further updates will be made if there are any significant developments or our estimate of the financial exposure was to materially change.”
Mr Shamash said Gascoigne 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”.
Mr Shamash concluded: “Paul now wants to put this matter behind him and will not be making any further immediate comment.”
Anjlee Saigol, of Atkins Thomson, solicitor for Shobna Gulati and Robert Ashworth, said they were extremely happy with the decision.
“Whilst it was very painful for both Shobna and Robert to give evidence, they are grateful to the judge for listening to them and appreciating the impact the many articles published about them by MGN had on their lives, both professionally and personally.
“The judge noted how relationships were lost, problems within marriages exacerbated and personal difficulties made worse due to MGN’’s conduct which involved daily and systematic intrusions into their private lives over several years.”