On 22 November 2005, an unknown caller claiming to be "John from Credit Control" phoned Vodafone's customer services department and persuaded the mobile phone company to change a voicemail PIN. The account in question belonged to a company called Public Eye Communications but its user went by a different name: Sienna Miller.
It was the third time in as many months that the British actress, whose love life at the time had become the most sought-after morsel of celebrity tittle-tattle for the nation's red-tops, had been successfully targeted by an imposter seeking to "blag" the vital numeric code that would allow her mobile phone messages to be eavesdropped.
In the race for juicy information about Ms Miller's tempestuous relationship with fellow actor Jude Law, one title had gained a vital but highly illegal advantage over its rivals. "John from Credit Control" was Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator based in suburban Surrey who was being paid handsomely by the News of the World (NOTW) to intercept the voicemails of celebrities and public figures. He eventually went to prison.
Yesterday, in the oak-lined Court 57 at the Royal Courts of Justice, a six-minute hearing drew a line under six years of tumult and two years of legal trench warfare for Ms Miller, when a lawyer for Rupert Murdoch's News International stood up and put on record the NOTW's "sincere apologies" for a 12-month campaign of harassment by repeatedly intercepting her voicemails and using their content to publish a succession of stories about her private life.
The 15-paragraph agreed statement read out in open court, which bluntly ended by stating that Ms Miller considered herself to be "fully vindicated", was the first formal admission before a judge by News International of its role in the phone-hacking scandal which has engulfed Mr Murdoch's top-selling British newspaper, leading to an ongoing criminal inquiry, the arrest of three senior journalists and a slew of damages claims that are set to cost the company at least £20m to settle.
Outlining the agreement to pay Ms Miller £100,000 damages and undisclosed legal costs, Michael Silverleaf QC, for the NOTW, said: "The information should never have been obtained in the manner it was, the private information should never have been published and [the NOTW] has accepted liability for misuse of private information, breach of confidence and harassment."
The actress, who was last night appearing in her current West End play, made no statement.
But the admission by News International represented the conclusion of proceedings which pitched the 29-year-old, hitherto best known for her roles in the moderately successful films Alfie and Factory Girl, against the might of Mr Murdoch's media empire at a time when others – Scotland Yard included – showed little interest in pursuing evidence that phone hacking, until then supposedly limited to the activities of Mr Mulcaire and one "rogue" reporter, was far more widely practiced at the NOTW than previously thought.
Ms Miller and her lawyers succeeded in dragging into the daylight evidence which put a different perspective on the hacking scandal. They obtained evidence from the 9,000 pages of notes seized from Mulcaire showing that she, Mr Law and close confidants had been systematically targeted by the private detective between July 2005 and the following summer. It was the first evidence of what Ms Miller and other civil claimants allege was a "scheme" agreed in January 2005 between NOTW executives and Mulcaire to target public figures across three key areas: "Political, Royal, and Showbiz/Entertainment."
The announcement of the Christmas Day engagement of Ms Miller and Mr Law in 2004 had propelled the couple into the media spotlight. Based in the chic north London neighbourhood of Primrose Hill, the actors became the subject of intense coverage that went into overdrive in July 2005 when Mr Law issued a public apology to his distraught fiancée for an affair with his children's nanny (from his marriage to his first wife, Sadie Frost).
The NOTW, with its hard-won reputation for showbusiness scoops against the fiercest competition in Fleet Street, was the most successful in its pursuit of stories about the couple, unearthing a catalogue of details about the couple's innermost feelings that its rivals simply could not match.
Prior to the revelation of Mr Law's affair, the paper obtained an exclusive on the pair's thoughts on having children. In August 2005, it detailed an argument between the couple under the headline "How Jude do that?". In October another story headlined "It's on and off" offered the inside track on a claimed relationship between Ms Miller and James Bond star Daniel Craig and a trip to Paris by Mr Law to see his estranged fiancée. And in July 2006, a story revealing Ms Miller's feelings about Mr Law was published with the title "Jude's not Sien her any more".
The cascade of unerringly accurate revelations left the actress facing two unpalatable conclusions: either someone very close to her was leaking her most intimate details to the press or her mobile phone messages were being somehow intercepted to provide stories. In her High Court claim, Ms Miller said she had found both possibilities "extremely distressing".
Her suspicions had been further aroused from July 2005 when she began to notice unusual glitches on her mobile phone – calls where the caller would suddenly hang up on answering; new voicemails that appeared as old, and thus listened to; and voicemails which family and friends told her had been left but mysteriously never arrived.
Widespread publicity about the modus operandi of Mulcaire, who was arrested in August 2006 and jailed along with NOTW royal correspondent Clive Goodman for hacking, means such events would now be recognised as signs of interception.
But at the time, knowledge of the "dark arts" was minimal and attempts by Ms Miller to protect her privacy by changing her mobile three times in three months late in 2005 were quickly defeated by Mulcaire, who adopted the persona "John from Credit Control", among others, to obtain details of her new number, password and voicemail PIN each time.
It was not until 2009 that an answer to Ms Miller's anxieties was provided when the actress's solicitor, Mark Thomson, a dogged expert in privacy law who had previously been a partner with feared media lawyers Carter Ruck, obtained confirmation from the Metropolitan Police that it held evidence seized from Mulcaire showing that she had been targeted by the private detective. It took another year for the full picture to emerge in disclosures from the thousands of pages of handwritten notes scrawled by the private detective as he went about his work.
In her claim, Ms Miller stated that details including PINs and numbers had been obtained by Mulcaire for no fewer than nine mobile phones – three used by her, three belonging to her assistant and publicist, Ciara Parkes, and one each used by Mr Law, his assistant Ben Jackson and her friend Archie Keswick. Details of Ms Miller's step-mother, interior designer Kelly Hoppen, were also found in the private investigator's records.
The evidence amounted to what the actress has now successfully claimed was a gross breach of privacy and harassment "solely for the commercial purpose of profits from obtaining private information about her to satisfy the prurient curiosity of members of the public regarding the private life of well-known individuals".
Despite her very public stance, Ms Miller has been reticent about the motivation behind her action. At least part of her reasoning is a desire to preserve her hard-fought privacy. In 2008, she won a groundbreaking ruling, barring a photographic agency's staff from pursuing her for pictures other than in a restricted number of public places such as the entrance to a bar or nightclub.
In some of her few comments on the phone-hacking scandal, she revealed she had thought twice about squaring up to the NOTW in the courts. She told The Guardian: "I definitely contemplated not doing it, because it's an incredibly powerful thing to take on, and to be a person on your own doing it, it's pretty scary. But I don't regret it. All the legal action I've taken against newspapers has had a massively positive effect on my life and achieved exactly what I wanted which is privacy and non-harassment... I've bought my freedom."
Indeed, the actress can legitimately claim to have achieved another legal triumph but yesterday's expression of remorse by the NOTW also represents the template for an "endgame" which will enable News International to draw a veil over the expanding number of civil claimants it faces from figures ranging from the former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell to controversial former Metropolitan Police officer Ali Dizaei.
The newspaper has thus far avoided a public trial at which full details of its activities against Ms Miller and other targets in the alleged "scheme" with Mulcaire can be aired. This is only likely to be rectified if four test cases, including one brought by Mr Law, come to court early next year without the claims being settled.
In the meantime, Ms Miller has said she is certain of one matter: "I don't think I'm going to be in too many Murdoch papers from now on."
The News of the World's apology to Sienna Miller
"The first defendant [News Group Newspapers] is here today through me to offer its sincere apologies to the claimant [Sienna Miller] for the damage, as well as the distress, caused to her by the accessing of her voicemail messages, the publication of the private information in the articles and the related harassment she suffered as a consequence. The first defendant acknowledges that the information should never have been obtained in the manner it was, the private information should never have been published and that the first defendant has accepted liability for misuse of private information, breach of confidence and harassment."
Sienna Miller versus the 'News of the World'
Christmas Day 2004 Ms Miller becomes engaged to actor Jude Law.
January 2005 Glenn Mulcaire and the NOTW allegedly agree a "scheme" to hack the voicemails of celebrities and public figures.
July 2005 - August 2006 Following the revelation of an affair by Mr Law, Ms Miller has her messages hacked by Mr Mulcaire and 11 stories based on the voicemails appear in the NOTW.
November 2006 Ms Miller and Mr Law announce the end of their relationship
June 2009 Scotland Yard confirms Ms Miller was targeted by Mr Mulcaire
October 2010 Ms Miller sues NOTW and Mr Mulcaire in the High Court for breach of confidence and harrassment.
12 May 2011 NOTW lawyers admit Ms Miller's claim and agree to pay her £100,000 in damages.
7 June 2011 A statement in open court offers "sincere apologies" to Ms Miller.Reuse content