Heather Mills McCartney is to sue two newspapers over "false, damaging and immensely upsetting" statements surrounding her divorce from Sir Paul, her lawyers have said.
Solicitors Mishcon de Reya named the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard as the subject of legal proceedings. Legal action will also be taken against The Sun. In a statement, Heather's legal representatives said she had been vilified in the media and was now being stalked by photographers. They said the 38-year-old could not afford to sue all the newspapers she wanted to.
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"Her time and resources are not infinite. She cannot sue — for now, at least — every 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 to the press. The document, 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.
Mishcon de Reya said: "It would appear that the media has concluded that there are no limits to what may be said about, or done to, our client."
Mishcon de Reya issued a copy of a letter, apparently from The Mail on Sunday's investigations editor Dennis Rice, offering Heather's sister Fiona a "substantial sum" for information about the divorce. Nine pages of a 13-page divorce petition, purportedly filed on behalf of Heather McCartney, appeared on more than one journalistic fax machine at around midday on Tuesday last week.
One was in the press room at the Royal Courts of Justice, another belonged to Press Association — and insiders at the Daily Mail claim they also had the documents independently and ahead of the competition.
The allegations of abuse on the part of McCartney were therefore widely circulated among journalists — but only the Mail decided to run with them, providing it with a front-page exclusive.
Leading media lawyer Mark Stephens believes the Mail may have been foolhardy to publish.
He said: "Every news organisation bar the Mail decided not to publish, because it was too risky.
"The allegations, if untrue, are clearly defamatory of Sir Paul, and if true, could be an invasion of privacy — so you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
"Even if it's true, the only person that can stand these allegations up is Heather — and is she going to do that? Probably not.
"The people who have repeated these allegations as if they were true could be in real trouble. The libel damages for this could be £150,000."
Stephens said there is also the possibility that the documents are an elaborate hoax. The documents look official, but have not been filed in court and are unsigned.
Efforts to authenticate the documents by journalists prompted a response at around 6pm last Tuesday from Heather's lawyers Mishcon de Reya, which said: "We don't comment on leaked documents" and that Heather "stands by everything filed in court".
Stephens said: "This is not a document that's ever been near a courtroom. Why give a statement that doesn't answer the question about the documents? It could possibly be a hoax. It looks like a genuine document, but it clearly hasn't been filed."