Actor Ricky Tomlinson wins right to continue legal battle over hacking claim

Royle Family star is one of a number of people who claim they were victims of unlawful information gathering at titles run by Mirror Group Newspapers.

Jess Glass
Friday 27 May 2022 11:49
Actor Ricky Tomlinson’s legal battle against a newspaper publisher over alleged unlawful information gathering will be allowed to continue, a High Court judge has ruled (PA)
Actor Ricky Tomlinson’s legal battle against a newspaper publisher over alleged unlawful information gathering will be allowed to continue, a High Court judge has ruled (PA)

Actor Ricky Tomlinson’s legal battle against a newspaper publisher over alleged unlawful information gathering will be allowed to continue, a High Court judge has ruled.

The Royle Family star is one of a number of people who claim they were victims of unlawful information gathering at titles run by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), who were at the centre of a bid by the publisher to have six cases struck out.

Lawyers for MGN argued the claims have been made too late and asked Mr Justice Fancourt to either strike out the claims or give summary judgment in favour of the publisher – which would resolve the cases without a trial.

Actress Nikki Sanderson leaving an earlier hearing at the Rolls Building in central London (PA/Yui Mok)

As well as Mr Tomlinson’s claim, this also included claims from Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse, Ingrid Dupre, the former wife of presenter Chris Tarrant, former Coronation Street and Hollyoaks actress Nikki Sanderson and model Paul Sculfor.

However, in a ruling on Friday, the judge rejected the publisher’s bid and said the cases could go ahead to trial, which is expected in May 2023.

The High Court previously heard that dozens more claims could be affected by the judge’s decision on these cases.

Mr Justice Fancourt said that while the alleged misuse of private information took place between 1997 and 2009 – meaning the normal six-year period for cases to be brought had expired – this time limit did not apply if the defendant had “concealed important facts relating to the claims” which a person did not know, and could not have reasonably discovered them at the time.

Lawyers for MGN had argued that the six people would have been aware of the phone hacking allegations against MGN, its admissions and public apology, from between 2011 and 2015.

In a judgment handed down on Friday, Mr Justice Fancourt said there had been “considerable” publicity about the “scale and nature of phone hacking activity” at both MGN and News Group Newspapers by 2014.

Their evidence is not that they discovered in about 2019 or 2020 relevant facts that MGN had concealed previously, but that, as a result of conversations with friends who had brought a successful claim, they decided to take legal advice

Mr Justice Fancourt

He continued: “However, each of the claimants, in different terms, explains in their witness statement that they were not attentive to print or television or radio news media.

“Some say that they may have heard about phone hacking very generally, as affecting A-list celebrities and the like but not ordinary people, but they were not in fact aware of these developments.

“Others say that were not aware of the publicity at all.”

He continued: “Their evidence is not that they discovered in about 2019 or 2020 relevant facts that MGN had concealed previously, but that, as a result of conversations with friends who had brought a successful claim, they decided to take legal advice.

“The trigger was therefore what they were told by a friend at that time, and the knowledge they had was what they learned from instructing a lawyer to advise them.”

The judge concluded: “I must conclude that the claimants have a real prospect of proving at trial that they did not in fact know, more than six years before they issued their claims, the essential facts of MGN’s unlawful information gathering activities, or facts from which such activities could be inferred and sufficiently pleaded in a valid claim.”

If I had known for one minute that this was going on, I would not have waited this long to do something about it and it is ridiculous and hurtful for... MGN to suggest I did know

Ricky Tomlinson

In a witness statement, Mr Tomlinson said he had “no idea” he might have a claim against MGN until about 2019, when he was working with his Royle Family co-star Ralf Little, who mentioned it to him, and that if he had he would have “demonstrated outside MGN’s office”.

Describing the impact on him and his family, he said the way his son Clifton – who died in December 2004 – had been written about was “absolutely heart-breaking” and an invasion of privacy.

The actor said in the statement: “I am really angry and bitter now about what MGN did; Clifton was ill and MGN published a story about him and our family only to make a profit from it.

“It is an outrage that MGN made money and published articles about his illness. If I had known for one minute that this was going on, I would not have waited this long to do something about it and it is ridiculous and hurtful for… MGN to suggest I did know.

“If I had known about all of the wrongs MGN committed, I would have made waves about this a long time ago.”

Mr Justice Fancourt also said that as well as the unlawful information gathering claims against MGN, the six people had also brought claims over the harm caused by publishing stories about them.

However, in Friday’s ruling, the judge struck out the claims about the harm caused by the publications themselves.

In a summary read in court, he said: “There was no concealment of what was published, and how MGN obtained the private information was not an essential fact for those causes of action.

“Accordingly, I find in favour of MGN that the publication claims of each of the claimants are statute-barred and must be struck out or dismissed.”

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