UK

Phone hacking: Celebrities win damages from Mirror Group

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionActress Sadie Frost: "It's closure, and I can now get on with the next part of my life"

Damages totalling nearly £1.25m have been awarded to eight people whose phones were hacked by Mirror Group journalists writing celebrity stories.

Actress Sadie Frost won £260,000 and ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne £188,250.

Soap stars Shane Richie, Shobna Gulati and Lucy Benjamin also received payouts. Mirror Group has set aside an extra £16m to deal with further claims.

The scale of damages reflected the invasions of privacy being "so serious and so prolonged", the judge said.

Mr Justice Mann added: "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."

The High Court heard the hacking of the eight claimants' phones took place at various periods between 1999 and 2009.

The other damages, awarded after a three-week hearing at London's High Court, were:

  • £155,000 to Mr Richie, who plays Alfie Moon in EastEnders.
  • Ms Benjamin - referred to in court by real name of Lucy Taggart - received £157,250. She played Lisa Fowler in EastEnders.
  • Ms Gulati, Coronation Street's Sunita Alahan, was awarded £117,500
  • £85,000 was given to BBC creative director Alan Yentob
  • TV producer Robert Ashworth, who was married to Coronation Street actress Tracy Shaw, received £201,250
  • Flight attendant Lauren Alcorn, who had a relationship with footballer Rio Ferdinand, was awarded £72,500
Image copyright PA/BBC
Image caption Clockwise from top left: Alan Yentob, Sadie Frost, Paul Gascoigne, Lucy Taggart, Robert Ashworth, Lauren Alcorn, Shane Richie, Shobna Gulati

After the figures were announced, Mr Justice Mann was told that about 70 other claims were outstanding, and that a further 10 had settled.

The Mirror Group said it would consider whether to seek permission to appeal against the size of the damages.

It has increased the money it has allocated to deal with phone hacking claims from £12m to £28m.

Trinity Mirror, which owns Mirror Groups Newspapers (MGN), said: "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.

In February, Trinity Mirror, which owns the Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and the People, published a "sincere and unreserved" apology for the voicemail interception, saying it "was unlawful and should never have happened".


Analysis

BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman

There was no right to privacy enforceable in the English courts until the 1998 Human Rights Act created one.

Since then relatively few claims for breach of privacy have gone to trial and judges' awards have been modest.

Naomi Campbell won £3,500 when she sued the Mirror for publishing pictures of her leaving a drug rehabilitation centre.

Until today, the highest award by a judge was £60,000 to Max Mosley following the News of the World publishing a story about him attending a sex party.

Both of those cases concerned a single story.

Today Mr Justice Mann has made it clear that a claim for invasion of privacy made up of many different acts over years will be broken down into individual awards of damages.

So, for example, every time a person is hacked, damages will be awarded. Compensation will be added on top for the distress caused.

If the hack caused further breaches of privacy, say via the publication of a tabloid article, a further sum will be added. And if that further breach of privacy caused distress, a sum will be awarded for that distress as well.

In Sadie Frost's case, 30 articles published over four years, plus nearly £40,000 for the hacking itself, a further £30,000 for the sustained level of distress resulting from the hacking, and £10,000 for the acts of private investigators, gets you to over £250,000, dwarfing the Mosley award.

The message to the press and others is clear. Don't breach privacy repeatedly and for years, or you will pay, and pay, and pay.


'Lonely place'

The damages dwarf those awarded to former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who successfully sued the now defunct News of the World in 2008.

He was awarded £60,000, previously the biggest sum awarded by a UK court in a privacy case.

Following the ruling, Ms Frost said she was "relieved" the case was over and the ruling was "closure" for her.

Phone hacking had left her unable to trust the "closest people in my life", she said, adding: "When you lose trust in your friends and family, it is a very lonely place to be."

Mr Gascoigne was described by his lawyer as being "delighted" with the result.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The previous highest award was to former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley

The former England international told the hearing that hacking had left him "scared to speak to anybody" on the phone. He said the ordeal had "ruined his life".

He had complained about 18 articles published by Mirror Newspapers, all of which were accepted to have been the product of illegal activity.

Christopher Hutchings, solicitor for Ms Alcorn, said the judgement should encourage "ordinary people who have found themselves to be victims of phone hacking to take steps to bring the offending parts of the media to account".

Hacked Off, the campaign group formed in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, said it predicted there would be hundreds of further claims.

It also predicted the Mirror Group had underestimated the amount it needed to set aside for compensation "by a factor of 10".

More on this story