The broadcaster and former Scotland striker Andy Gray today accepted damages of £20,000 from Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers following its admission that his mobile phone was hacked by the News of the World.
The publisher also agreed to pay the TalkSport radio presenter’s legal costs but the size of the settlement was far less than the £100,000 damages paid to actress Sienna Miller, another victim of phone hacking by the tabloid.
In a statement issued by Mr Gray’s lawyers, the damages paid to the ex-footballer were described as “substantial”. John Kelly, a partner with Schillings, said: “When Andy first contacted the News of the World about this matter it denied any liability. Andy was forced to issue legal proceedings and had to fight tooth and nail to establish that he had been the victim of unlawful phone hacking.”
News Group admitted liability for the unlawful interception of Mr Gray’s voice mail in April and has publicly apologised for the hacking. But at the Wapping headquarters of Mr Murdoch’s British newspapers today, there was a satisfaction among executives over the scale of Mr Gray’s settlement, which also caused some surprise among lawyers acting for other claimants.
Those lawyers will be anxious that the £20,000 figure is not seen as a benchmark for the settling of damages in other provable claims. Some regard Mr Gray, who was formerly employed by Sky Sports (a part of Mr Murdoch’s business empire) and who makes his living in the media, as a special case.
But within News Group there is confidence that even successful litigants will have to revise downwards their expectations of damages. Mr Gray was only able to link one News of the World article to the hacked messages. Ms Miller’s case was much stronger and included claims of harassment and evidence of 11 articles that appeared to be generated from illicitly-obtained material.
Although more claims for damages are in the offing, Mr Murdoch’s organisation is likely to meet provable cases with “Part 36” offers, which expose claimants to the risk of hefty costs if they decide to continue to court. No cases will reach court before next year and Mr Gray’s claim was one of five test cases due to be heard in January.
News Group has appointed the former High Court judge Sir Charles Gray as an independent adjudicator overseeing a compensation scheme in phone hacking cases where it accepts liability. The company, which would prefer that the details of the phone hacking scandal are not replayed in open court, has set aside £20m to settle with bonafide claimants and is offering to pay 10 per cent more than the courts would be likely to award in damages and to pay costs.
But Mr Murdoch’s organisation cannot similarly manage the criminal investigation into phone-hacking being conducted by Scotland Yard. Mr Gray’s lawyer John Kelly said that his client hoped that detectives would fully investigate the affair. “It is no small part due to the courageous effort of Andy Gray and other victims who have issued civil claims that widespread phone hacking by the News of the World has been exposed and the police investigation into this matter reopened,” he said. “The full extent of phone hacking is still not known and we hope that the Metropolitan Police’s new investigation will uncover the full extent of the wrongdoing.”