Sienna Miller should be forced to accept damages of £100,000 in her phone hacking claim against the News of the World because the stories published about her private life were "not that hurtful", a lawyer for the Sunday newspaper said yesterday.
The High Court heard that the six-figure sum, which had been requested by the actress's legal team, constituted a "generous" offer to settle her complaint and should be accepted because it was similar to the compensation she might receive if she suffered a "life-changing" injury such as the loss of an eye or brain damage.
At least 24 breach of privacy claims have now been lodged against the NOTW by public figures who believe their mobile phone voicemails were eavesdropped using stolen information such as PIN codes obtained by the paper's private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire. The case brought by Ms Miller, 29, who was the subject of stories about her relationship with actor Jude Law based on hacked messages, yesterday became the first to reach a settlement hearing after Rupert Murdoch's News International announced last month that it was admitting liability in eight cases, including that of the actress, and was setting up a £20m compensation fund.
The hearing has significant implications for the other civil claims being brought by public figures, including former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell, by potentially deciding the maximum payout available to hacking victims and the extent to which Mr Murdoch's best-selling title must reveal full details of its eavesdropping activities to its victims. Ms Miller is resisting a settlement because her legal team has yet to be shown any documentation by the NOTW about the quantity or nature of information from her voicemails.
Michael Silverleaf QC, for the NOTW, said that the paper now accepted that there was "access to voicemails and private and confidential information was published" about Ms Miller. He added: "We are actually trying to clear this mess up. We genuinely believe that we could resolve this claim if we approach this in a sensible way."
The court heard that the newspaper believed the £100,000 it was offering the Factory Girl star was a "significant over-estimate" of what she could expect to be awarded if she won her case at a full trial. Mr Silverleaf said most of the articles of which Ms Miller was complaining related to exposure of details about her on-off relationship with former fiancé Mr Law. He added: "It is hurtful but it is not that hurtful. It does not belittle her in the public estimation."
In a pre-trial hearing, the lawyer added that the £100,000 on offer was comfortably above the £60,000 received by former Formula One boss Max Mosley for the "huge and appalling" breach of privacy that arose from the publication of pictures of his involvement in a sado-masochistic sex session. The story, which the court was told had "ruined" Mr Mosley's life, was published by the NOTW.
Mr Silverleaf said that the six-figure payment to Miss Miller had to be considered in the context of other forms of compensation such as the payouts to victims of serious accidents. He said: "When you examine that scale, is it really right that she should get more than if she lost the sight of an eye or suffered severe facial scarring?"
The court heard that Ms Miller, who has said her case is about "standing up for yourself" and she did not want to settle out of court, was still awaiting disclosure by the NOTW of evidence culled from its own records, including 8,000 emails, relevant to the hacking of her phone. The newspaper says it does not have to hand over the documentation because it has already admitted liability for all the "wrongdoing" claimed by Ms Miller's legal team.
Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the actress, accused the NOTW of being "consistently deceitful". He said: "The crucial thing from our point of view is to know the extent of the wrongdoing and know exactly what happened."
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