Mirror titles could face huge bill if phone hacking is proven

Latest police
investigation could involve hundreds of alleged victims and officers are looking at more than one newspaper

Phone hacking claims against the Mirror Group newspapers could involve hundreds of victims and if proven will leave the publisher facing a bill similar to the £300m run up by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, according to leading lawyers involved in the illegal newsgathering scandal.

Trinity Mirror today confirmed it is the second British newspaper company to be placed under formal police investigation over the alleged interception of voicemails after it announced to the Stock Exchange that it is the subject of a Scotland Yard inquiry to establish whether the PLC and its senior directors may be held “criminally liable” for phone hacking.

The alleged internal conspiracy, which has already led to former senior journalists and editors being arrested on suspicion of hacking-related offences,  was announced in line with the publicly-listed company’s obligation to inform shareholders of any development that could have a material impact on its stock.

Although Trinity shares quickly dropped 6 per cent after the announcement, there was a partial recovery later.

The company said that the police investigation was “at a very early stage” of examining if MGN, the subsidiary that publishes the Mirror’s national daily and Sunday titles, were criminally liable for “alleged unlawful conduct by previous employees in relation to phone hacking at the Sunday Mirror.”

The company statement added: “The group does not accept wrongdoing within its business and takes these allegations seriously.”

MGN has been under pressure in recent month to release details to lawyers of victims who claim the scale of the Mirror’s hacking operation, if proved, could match the revelations at the News of the World which eventually led News UK, formerly News International, to close the leading title.

One specialist law firm estimates that around 50 victims are currently seeking initial information and basic disclosure from MGN over alleged hacking and the time period currently under investigation by police could uncover several hundred potential victims.

Others told The Independent that the cross-over among staff who switched between leading tabloid titles. One souce said:  “Dark arts practices were not restricted to just one title, or one group of journalists.”

Former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson is among four people, including the former nanny of David and Victoria Beckham, to have filed damages claims against Mirror titles alleging phone hacking. A hearing for the cases to be struck out brought on behalf of the papers is due to be heard before the High Court next month.

Senior Mirror executives who gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards maintained last year that a tight compliance regime inside Trinity Mirror ensured no hacking had taken place, and that no evidence was uncovered to suggest any illegal phone interception had been practiced.

One former Mirror journalist however told Lord Justice Leveson that  hacking inside the company was regarded as a “bog-standard journalistic tool”.

Although MGN maintain that only the Sunday Mirror is being investigated, The Independent has learned that the Met investigation is looking at more than one MGN title, and covers a specific timeline from 2000 to 2005.

Scotland Yard has refused to comment on the focus of their investigation.

Earlier this month, Dan Evans, a former Sunday Mirror reporter, became the first journalist to be charged with a hacking-related conspiracy while working for the Mirror title.

One charge against Evans states that he “conspired with others”.

Two of the four counts Evans was charged with related to part of the period 2002 to 2004 when he was employed at the Sunday Mirror. One of those charges alleges that he “conspired with others” to intercept voicemails. He later moved to the News of the World in early 2005 and faces further charges in connection with his time on the now defunct Sunday tabloid.

In March this year four former Sunday Mirror journalists, including the title’s long-serving editor, Tina Weaver, were arrested on suspicion of being involved in an alleged phone-hacking conspiracy between 2003 and 2005.

The other three ex-Sunday Mirror  journalists were the former Sunday People editor, James Scott, his deputy, Nick Buckley, and Mark Thomas, another People editor.

The formal Stock Exchange statement by Trinity confirmed existence of a formal Met investigation that has been evolving since last year.

The Mirror probe has a specific name, Operation Golding, and is operating under the authority of the Met’s specialist hacking investigation, Operation Weeting. In addition to those charged and arrested, Met detectives have also spoken to other senior company editors and executives.

It has been estimated that the total bill for settlement payments and the extensive legal operation News UK has mounted to defend itself against hundreds of hacking claims, is currently beyond £300 million and still rising.

Trinity Mirror’s insistence that there was no “wrongdoing within its business” indicates that the company are prepared to mount an expensive legal operation to challenge claimants who allege they were victims of hacking by journalists employed at Mirror titles.”

The current market capitalisation of Trinity Mirror – effectively the total value of the company – stands at around £340 million. A recent focus on reducing costs has pushed the company’s recent profit levels up.

However if Trinity is forced into a lengthy legal fight over hacking, and it is found that hacking did take place the final bill could destroy the publisher.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea