Hacking's model witness: Introducing Elle Macpherson
After a six-year silence, the Australian supermodel heads to the High Court
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Sunday 03 February 2013
The Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson is preparing to break a six-year silence on how phone hacking by the News of the World affected those close to her.
Macpherson is the only legally proven victim of hacking not to take action against News International. She has consistently refused to criticise Rupert Murdoch or his UK newspapers. The high-profile cases have led to the award of record-breaking damages and out-of-court settlements close to and beyond £1m.
The model's silence fed rumours, denied but never legally challenged by her lawyers, that she entered into a deal with Mr Murdoch's company which nurtured a post-catwalk television career involving contracts with News Corp TV channels.
However, legal action against News International by her former business adviser, Mary-Ellen Field, is on course to bring Macpherson to the High Court.
A trial in 2007 found that the phones of Macpherson, PR guru Max Clifford, agent Sky Andrew, football union boss Gordon Taylor and MP Simon Hughes had been illegally hacked by the NOTW.
Ms Field launched legal action against the NOTW in 2011, claiming she was an indirect victim of the hacking scandal after Macpherson had blamed her for leaking personal stories to the press. She gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry describing how she was branded an alcoholic by Macpherson, forced to go to a rehab clinic in Arizona, and then had her previously successful business relationship with the Australian model effectively terminated.
Lord Justice Leveson described her as the "collateral damage of what someone else did to the person for whom you worked".
News International last year began attempts to have Ms Field's claim struck out, with the company's leading counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, branding the claim "a fantasy".
If Ms Field's "collateral damage" case is successful, it could give rise to further legal actions against NI from those previously regarded as only borderline victims.
Legal sources contacted by The Independent on Sunday previously suggested that Macpherson, also known as "The Body", wished to play no part in Ms Field's case, did not believe she needed to answer dozens of questions sent to her by Ms Field's legal team, and had gone as far as saying she knew nothing and held no evidence on hacking. That position has now significantly changed.
Michael Farrant, the PR executive who handles Macpherson's affairs and who is in close contact with her lawyer, Alexander Carter-Silk, told The IoS: "Elle has answered all the questions relevant to the case and yes, she would appear as a witness if called."
Ms Field said yesterday: "This is very good news. My lawyers have been unsuccessful in obtaining vital information from Elle... I'm delighted she's now changed her mind."
"Strong evidence" from the model was chosen by the then director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, for the trial in 2007 to help prove NOTW hacking went beyond the Royal Family. A criminal trial involving journalists and senior NI executives is scheduled for later this year.
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