'Vilified' Mills takes legal action against newspapers

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The Independent Online

Heather Mills McCartney's lawyers said they were suing two newspapers over "false, damaging and immensely upsetting" statements, insisting their client was being "vilified" in the media.

The solicitors Mishcon de Reya said they had begun proceedings against Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and the London Evening Standard, adding that legal action would also be taken against The Sun.

In a statement yesterday, the 38-year-old former model's legal representatives said she could not afford to sue all the newspapers she wanted to. "Her time and resources are not infinite. She cannot sue - for now, at least - every single newspaper that has published false, damaging, and immensely upsetting statements about her. She should not thereby be taken to have accepted that these statements are true."

The storm over the McCartneys' increasingly bitter divorce began last Tuesday when legal papers were leaked anonymously to the press, leading to a string of headlines. The papers, apparently prepared by Mishcon de Reya in answer to Sir Paul's divorce petition, contained allegations that he mistreated his wife during the couple's four-year marriage. The former Beatle, through his lawyers, insisted he would "vigorously" defend himself against the claims.

Mishcon de Reya said: "It would appear the media has concluded there are no limits to what may be said about, or done to, our client." The lawyers said it was "entirely false" that Lady McCartney had been offered a £30m divorce settlement. "The truth is that no settlement offer, in any amount, has been made. She is pursued everywhere she goes. She is stalked by press photographers, who congregate outside her home and chase after her in cars - regardless of her safety or the safety of her daughter."

Mishcon de Reya issued a copy of a letter, which they believe came from The Mail on Sunday's investigations editor, Dennis Rice, offering Lady McCartney's sister Fiona a "substantial sum" for information about the divorce. Hand-delivered, it promised anonymity.

"It requires no imagination to conclude what kind of information was being sought from our client's closest confidante, nor why the assurance of confidentiality was believed to be necessary." The statement finished: "We ask on behalf of our client for the media, as a matter of common decency, please now to show some restraint."

Last night, Associated Newspapers responded to the Mischon de Reya statement, saying: "The stories published by the Daily Mail and Evening Standard about Heather Mills McCartney's claims in respect of her divorce were obtained by perfectly proper methods and in accordance with good journalistic practice. Our exclusive stories were extensively followed up in detail by all other newspapers and media outlets.

"We have received a claim from solicitors representing Heather Mills McCartney. We will deal with that in the normal way.

"The Mail on Sunday was led to believe that Fiona Mills had important information about this case and a perfectly proper and courteous approach was made to her."

Speculation increased yesterday as to the source of the leaked document, which arrived at PA's office in Howden, east Yorkshire, last Tuesday. While the fax gave no clue as to the sender, the agency's IT department examined its incoming calls and believed it had traced the sender to a newsagent's in Drury Lane in London.