Cherie Blair sues over hacking as Church case heads to court

 

Cherie Blair has joined a second wave of phone-hacking claimants, her solicitor confirmed yesterday, as it emerged that Charlotte Church's legal battle against News International (NI) is still on track for a High Court showdown next week.

Mrs Blair joins the new second wave of claimants against News Group Newspapers and the jailed private investigator the News of the World (NOTW) commissioned to hack phones, Glenn Mulcaire, which includes the footballer Peter Crouch, the Ukip politician Nigel Farage, the singer James Blunt, and Eimear Cook, the former wife of the golfer Colin Montgomerie.

Graham Atkins, the solicitor of Mrs Blair, who is married to the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, confirmed a claim had been made "in relation to the unlawful interception of her voicemails". In November, Mr Blair's former press secretary Alastair Campbell told the Leveson Inquiry he had wrongly suspected Mrs Blair's friend Carole Caplin of tipping off newspapers about her.

There are close to 100 alleged phone-hacking victims in the process of considering formal claims against NI at the High Court, with Ms Church's trial still on course to provide a high-profile conclusion to the first wave of cases.

Despite optimistic signals that Rupert Murdoch's UK subsidiary had made a "substantial" offer that was close to being accepted by the Welsh singer and her family, crucial differences between the two sides have not been sufficiently resolved. Ms Church's phone-hacking battle, scheduled to begin on Monday, is the last one standing out of six test cases expected to provide the High Court with a framework that would be used for other claims against NI.

The reasons behind the remaining gulf between NI and Ms Church are unclear. However, in the recent pre-trial review before Mr Justice Vos, NI's senior counsel, Michael Silverleaf, QC, made it clear that the business affairs of the singer's family, and the mental health of her mother, Maria, would be a key issue in the trial.

Mr Silverleaf successfully argued for a pre-trial psychological evaluation of Mrs Church to be undertaken before Monday's trial date, along with a specific examination of the family's pub business, said to be affected by years of illegal phone interceptions by Mr Mulcaire and the NOTW.

This indicated that NI's defence against Ms Church will go beyond just her own personal life. The intention to focus on the intimate details of her parents' private life may have hardened the resolve of the singer to seek "punitive" damages in court for the distress she told the Leveson Inquiry had been caused to her family by the NOTW.

Even if there is an 11th-hour agreement between the two sides, Mr Justice Vos's association with phone-hacking victims' cases will continue. He has given instructions that new cases will be filed to his office, while a new fast-track process allowing new victims quicker access to material held by the police and NI is also being considered.

Mr Justice Vos will also today consider an application from lawyers representing Mr Mulcaire, that should the trial go ahead on Monday, all or key parts of it should be subject to reporting restrictions by the media. His legal team will argue that the former private detective, who is facing new criminal action over phone hacking, cannot receive a fair trail if details of the NOTW internal practices are discussed in the trial.