The company behind the Mirror has “paid a very heavy price” for the hacking scandal and is still financially dealing with the fallout, a lawyer told the High Court as Prince Harry’s trial against the publisher wraps up.
Harry, 38, is suing Mirror Group Newspapers for damages, claiming its journalists were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators for unlawful activities.
Harry’s case is being heard alongside similar claims by actor Michael Turner, who is known professionally as Michael Le Vell and best known for playing Kevin Webster in Coronation Street, actress Nikki Sanderson and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman. Their claims cover a period as early as 1991 until at least 2011.
Giving his closing arguments, MGN’s barrister Andrew Green KC told the court in London that the publisher has so far spent £105m settling more than 600 claims relating to unlawful information gathering, and said £55m of that had gone to claimants’ lawyers.
He said that the previous “excoriating judgment” in 2015, in the case of actress Shobna Gulati and others, involved “genuine victims of reprehensible conduct” and their claims were “backed up by extensive call data and direct evidence”.
Green told the court the litigation has had a “catastrophic effect” on MGN, which has a parent company with a market capitalisation of less than £250m and has “paid a very heavy price” and is “still living with those consequences”.
However he said the current “fourth” wave of litigation is of a different nature to those cases and has involved people being told by associates they may have a claim, who then contact solicitors and are “encouraged to bring claims”.
Green said there had been “rocket-propelled lawyer-driven litigation of a pretty unusual type”, leading to claims being launched using “template formulaic pleadings”.
He pointed to one example of the “carelessness” with which cases had been put forward, saying that in the Duke of Sussex’s pleaded case there was an instance which referred to him as “her”, suggesting parts of it were “cut and pasted without any real thought as to whether they apply to the particular claimant”.
Referring to these more recent cases against MGN, he said: “The claims advanced are wildly overstated”, adding that voicemail allegations were “nothing more than a speculative hope without evidential foundation”.
“The relevant periods as pleaded are invariably utterly unjustifiable,” the barrister told the court.
Mirror hacking trial: Harry can ‘point to nothing’ to suggest phone ‘systematically hacked’
Outlining MGN’s case in relation to Harry, Green said the “genesis” for his claim was his introduction to his barrister David Sherborne at an Elton John party in the south of France, where the duke asked the lawyer “what he could do to bring an end to the harassment that he and his wife were experiencing from the tabloid press”.
He told the court that while there is “one payment record for which he is entitled to damages on the basis there was some form of unlawful information gathering”, the part of the duke’s claim relating to phone hacking “simply doesn’t get off the ground”.
Green said the duke could “point to nothing” to suggest his phone, and those of his associates, had been “systematically hacked” over a 16-year period in the way alleged, adding that part of his claim was “entirely speculative and bears little relation to the evidence”.
David Sherborne KC, representing the claimants, said in his own closing arguments that Harry was seen as a “prime target” by tabloid newspapers and the idea journalists would not have used illegal methods to gather information on him was “implausible”.
He said earlier that that the findings made in the 2015 ruling were a “solid basis” on which the judge could base his own conclusions.
The trial is due to end this week and Mr Justice Fancourt will deliver his ruling at a later date.
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