Trinity Mirror is facing a soaring phone-hacking bill after dozens more high-profile figures – including Nigel Havers, Jemima Khan and Hugh Grant – came forward to lodge compensation claims.
As the civil trial involving eight “representative” claims by celebrity victims nears the end of its second week, The Independent has learned that since the beginning of the year, 49 new claims against Mirror Group Newspapers have been formally lodged at the High Court.
Details emerge daily about the alleged scale and operation of voicemail interceptions inside MGN’s national titles – the Daily and Sunday Mirror, and the People – appears to have emboldened potential claimants with 41 of the claims lodged since the trial began two weeks ago.
Compensation payouts to each victim are anticipated to average around £50,000, in addition to the huge legal bills that accompany such action – meaning MGN is facing an imminent hacking bill twice the £12m so far set aside.
Among those who have lodged claims this month are the actors Nigel Havers, Elizabeth Hurley, Rhys Ifans, Amanda Holden and Sarah Lancashire. The Everton football club owner and theatre impresario, Bill Kenwright, the heiress and campaigner, Jemima Khan, and her former partner, the actor and press reform activist, Hugh Grant, have also lodged claims.
Although evidence in the civil trial has focused on the former footballer Paul Gascoigne, actors and the BBC executive, Alan Yentob, documents now lodged with the court allege that MGN senior journalists also authorised the “continued monitoring of MPs voicemails”. The witness statements of the convicted journalist and specialist hacker, Dan Evans, who worked for both the Sunday Mirror and the News of the World, claimed that the hacking activity against MPs and their families, reached a level that there was concern by one senior journalist that it “might end up attracting the attention [of] security services”.
The senior journalist, according to Evans, stood near the newsdesk of the Sunday Mirror and issued the order: “No more MPs, OK?”
In his witness statement, Evans said he believed the monitoring of MPs took place in 2003 or early 2004. Details of MPs telephone numbers were passed to Evans by senior MGN journalists. The former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, was among the targets.
Evans was given a 10-month suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty last year to phone hacking.
In the witness box, he told the court that an “inner-circle of senior journalists” were responsible for organising and carrying out hacking at the three MGN titles. But, he added an “over-arching knowledge” of hacking – sometimes referred to as “muppetry” – existed throughout the Canary Wharf newsrooms.
Evans said that he been inducted and tutored on hacking by two senior MGN staff journalists, and that he had been asked to investigate the possibility of constructing an Enigma-style code-breaking machine that would have fast-tracked the “cracking” of PIN numbers allowing access to voicemails. Evans told the court that knowledge of hacking had extended to the “legal department” of MGN.
One of Evans’ witness statements mentioned MGN’s head of legal, Marcus Partington. Evans recalled a Saturday morning when Mr Partington walked past the Sunday Mirror newsdesk. His statement recounted: “In a way I took to be mischievously humorous” the legal head asked a senior journalist: “Have I got any messages this morning?”.
The journalist, according to Evans, responded with a “knowing look and smile”. Evans said he had “certainly understood the ‘in joke’.”
The actress Sadie Frost, the former wife of Jude Law, one of the eight claimants seeking compensation from MGN, told the court that having her phone hacked by Mirror journalists was the “lowest of the low”.
Ms Frost said she was left “incredibly embarrassed and humiliated” when a story emerged about her attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting two years after her divorce from Mr Law.
The trial continues.