Apology after apology on Wapping's day of humility
Ian Burrell reports from the High Court on a remarkable display of corporate contrition
It was so busy in Court 16 of the Chancery Division of the High Court yesterday that Mr Justice Vos allowed people to sit on the floor. But among the crowd there were no executives from Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers (NGN), the company at the heart of the matter.
It fell to Michael Silverleaf, QC, to be the face of the giant media organisation on this day of contrition. He jumped up after each of the 18 statements from victims to offer the same words of apology. "This information should never have been obtained in the manner that it was," he kept saying.
Mr Silverleaf may have felt a sense of déjà vu, given that he warned of this as long ago as 2008. As NGN's counsel in a legal claim brought by Gordon Taylor, the head of the footballers' union, Mr Silverleaf told the company: "There is a powerful case that there is (or was) a culture of illegal information access used at NGN in order to produce stories for publication... to have this paraded at a public trial would, I imagine, be extremely damaging to NGN's public reputation."
His imagination did not deceive him. The statements read in court yesterday revealed that NGN has in recent weeks paid more than £600,000 in settlements (plus an estimated £4m in legal costs). They showed that, in addition to the phone hacking and blagging that prompted Lord Justice Leveson's public inquiry into media standards, NGN was involved in hacking into email accounts, a "manner" of obtaining information not previously uncovered. The statements repeatedly emphasised how the illicit methods of the News of the World created an environment of suspicion and distrust that put the families, friendships and business relationships of victims under immense strain.
Things could have been worse for NGN, if famous victims of NGN illegality such as Jude Law (paid £130,000), designer Sadie Frost (£50,000) and Lord Prescott (£40,000) had braved the waiting television cameras to have their triumphant day in court. But the Labour MP Chris Bryant was there to hear vindication of a legal action that NGN had originally fiercely defended. "This is act IV, scene II, of a five-act play," he said afterwards. "We would never have had the Leveson Inquiry or the reopened police investigation if it wasn't for these individual actions. But after years and years of lying, [NGN] are finally beginning to let us touch the hem of the truth."
As the statements were read out, it was clear that NGN had come forward with a series of admissions on 13 December in an effort to end cases before they came to trial. Those admissions coincided with James Murdoch being forced to deny he had read emails informing him of a wider illegal culture at NGN.
Mr Justice Vos himself was in a jovial mood, reminding those present it was his intention to find an "expedited resolution" to the remaining civil actions so Lord Justice Leveson can "get on with his inquiry". A further 10 victims are due to take their cases to trial on 13 February. Yesterday may have been an attempt by NGN to put an end to a wave of litigation but, as Hugh Tomlinson, QC, warned the judge: "It is anticipated there will be more."
Jude Law's statement: 'I was under surveillance for years'
"For several years leading up to 2006, I was suspicious about how information concerning my private life was coming out in the press. I changed my phones, I had my house swept for bugs but still the information kept being published. I started to become distrustful of people close to me.
I was truly appalled by what I was shown by the police and by what my lawyers have discovered. It is clear that I, along with many others, was kept under constant surveillance for a number of years.
No aspect of my private life was safe from intrusion by News Group Newspapers, including the lives of my children and the people who work for me. It was not just that my phone messages were listened to. News Group also paid people to watch me and my house for days at a time and to follow me and those close to me, both in this country and abroad.
[News Group] have accepted that the information published in the News of the World articles and The Sun articles that I complained about was private. I hope this means that they will never invade my privacy again. They have also finally given a proper apology.
For me, this case was never about money. It was about standing up for myself and finding out what had happened. I owed it to my friends and family as well as myself to do this.
I believe in a free press but what News Group did was an abuse of its freedoms. They have overstepped the mark for many years. They were prepared to do anything to sell their newspapers and to make money, irrespective of the impact it had on people's lives. It was not just those like me, whose work involved them being in the public eye, but also many other people, often at the most vulnerable times of their lives. It is now up to the police and the Leveson Inquiry to continue their investigations."
Chris Bryant Labour MP and former Minister. Awarded: £30,000. Messages eavesdropped and phone numbers obtained of close family.
Claire Ward Former Labour MP. Awarded: Substantial undisclosed damages. Concerned that her private life was being targeted along with information she held in capacity as a government minister.
Ciara Parkes PR consultant. Awarded: £35,000. Messages targeted in her role as friend and assistant to Sienna Miller, who changed her phones multiple times.
Ben Jackson Personal assistant to Jude Law. Awarded: £40,000. Targeted on numerous occasions, including allegedly in New York while travelling with Mr Law.
Graham Shear Solicitor. Awarded: £25,000. Targeted as a lawyer for a roll call of top footballers.
Ashley Cole Chelsea and England footballer. Awarded: Undisclosed.
Denis MacShane Labour MP and former minister. Awarded: £32,500. Voicemails intercepted while he was in a relationship with journalist Joan Smith.
Joan Hammell Former chief of staff to Lord Prescott. Awarded: £40,000. Targeted during the revelation of Lord Prescott's extra-marital affair.
Joan Smith Novelist and journalist. Awarded: £27,500. Targeted during relationship with Labour Minister Denis MacShane.
Lisa Gower Awarded: £30,000. Targeted for her relationship with actor Steve Coogan, who also had his phone hacked.
"HJK" Anonymous member of the public. Awarded: £60,000. Voicemails hacked after he began a gay relationship with a celebrity. The love affair was abruptly ended by celebrity after HJK was approached by a journalist.
Lord Prescott Former Deputy Prime Minister. Awarded: £40,000. Voicemails and mobile phone targeted following revelation of Lord Prescott's affair with diary secretary Tracey Temple.
Gavin Henson Rugby player and ex-partner of singer Charlotte Church. Awarded: £40,000. Messages eavesdropped during relationship with Ms Church, "souring" relationship with her family.
Guy Pelly Entrepreneur and nightclub owner. Awarded: £40,000. Allegedly targeted in 2002 as a friend of Prince Harry.
Tom Rowland Freelance journalist. Awarded: £25,000. Voicemails and emails allegedly hacked over knowledge of high-profile property deals.
Jude Law Actor. Awarded: £130,000. Subjected to hacking campaign over several years, leading him to change phones and have his home swept for bugs.
Christopher Shipman Son of serial killer Harold Shipman. Awarded: Substantial and aggravated undisclosed damages. Illegal access of medical, financial and legal information, including emails.
Sadie Frost Designer and ex-wife of Jude Law. Awarded: £50,000. Voicemails hacked during marriage to Law and his relationship with actor Sienna Miller.
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