Charlotte Church, loved by the tabloids as both angel and wild child, yesterday became the last woman standing against Rupert Murdoch's media empire after she and her family were left as the last participants in a damaging public trial which threatens to reveal the full inside story of phone hacking at the News of the World.
The Cardiff-born singer, who claimed that her management advised her as a child to sing at Mr Murdoch's New York wedding to Wendi Deng in 1999 in return for favourable press coverage, has refused to settle her claim for damages against the defunct Sunday tabloid which centres on four years of hacking of both her and her parents' phones.
News International's concern that a public trial will further damage an already-tainted brand was evident as their lawyers repeatedly appealed in the High Court yesterday to have the trial delayed, potentially indefinitely. The demand was dismissed by the presiding judge, Mr Justice Vos, stating simply: "We're ready for trial."
Ms Church found herself the unlikely lone protagonist in the legal battle against the "industrial scale" hacking that was rife inside the now-defunct Murdoch title after a further tranche of settlements involving other phone hacking victims was announced. The payouts left her and her parents, Maria and James, as the last remaining victims with viable cases in the first wave of damages cases.
Now 25, and having survived what she has called the "brutality" of Britain's tabloid press, the Church trial is set to begin on 27 February and could become a legal landmark, bearing testimony to the musician's determination to expose what she described as years of intrusion and rough treatment by newspapers. At the core of her complaints against the NOTW, which wrote 33 articles about her that she considers to be the product of illegal newsgathering, is a story that was headlined: "Church in three in a bed cocaine shock." The story was not about the singer, but her father and she said it led to her mother trying to kill herself.
Mr Justice Vos had been expected to use the civil trial of selected victims to construct a framework of damage levels that would be used in new claims on phone hacking against the NOTW.
The Independent was told last week that the number of additional hacking cases being looked at by solicitors is over 100. This week, the head of Scotland Yard's investigation, Sue Akers, told the Leveson Inquiry 829 "likely victims" had been identified.
Counsel for NI, Michael Silverleaf QC, has argued that with only Ms Church left, a trial was unnecessary. He also attacked the evidence so far prepared in the Church case which will involve the financial impact the reports had on the family's business and the mental health of her mother.
The company claimed that possible proceedings by Steve Johnson, a former boyfriend of Ms Church, meant that the hearing of her case should be delayed until all linked complaints were in a position to proceed.
But the judge's determination to have a trial, means the Murdoch empire's UK subsidiary now have three weeks to try to reach a deal with Ms Church before it begins. The court agreed to subject Maria Church to a new medical appraisal to determine her mental health while NI and Ms Church's counsel, David Sherborne, will examine the family's business affairs between 2002 and 2006.
Celebrity actions: The second wave
The announcement yesterday of six new legal actions against News International suggests that although Charlotte Church is technically the last woman standing in the company's fight to avoid a trial, others are queuing up in the second tranche of hacking claims.
The High Court heard that another 50 formal hacking claims have been launched in recent weeks. This backs up information given to The Independent which suggests that more than 100 victims have recently contacted leading solicitors associated with illegal voicemail access. Among the list, according to one law firm were "some astonishing names".
Listed yesterday were the singer James Blunt, the UK Independence Party politician Nigel Farage, the footballer Peter Crouch and his wife Abbey Clancey, the former wife of the golfer and former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, Eimear Cook, and the footballer Kieron Dyer.
Another five remaining cases that are not scheduled for the new trial date for legal and technical reasons, are the cases involving Mary Ellen Field, the former adviser to the supermodel Elle Macpherson, the footballer Ryan Giggs, the former royal butler, Paul Burrell, the former Scotland Yard detective, Dave Cook, his wife, also a former police officer, Jacqui Hames, and the PR consultant Nicola Phillips.
This week at the Leveson Inquiry, the head of the Scotland Yard team investigating phone hacking, Sue Akers, revealed that out of the names found in the notebooks of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator commissioned by the NOTW to illegally access voicemails, 829 "likely victims" had so far been identified.
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