Update 13 January 2023: Mail publisher Associated Newspapers is attempting to have Doreen Lawrence, Prince Harry and Elton John’s legal action against it dismissed.
The publisher will argue the claims have been brought too late and should not be heard at a trial.
In a court order made in December, which was made public on Thursday, Mr Justice Nicklin said a four-day hearing to consider the publisher’s bid to end the cases is due to take place at the High Court between 20 March and 5 April.
Original story 6 October 2022: Prince Harry, Sir Elton John and the mother of Stephen Lawrence are among a group suing the publisher of the Mail titles for alleged “gross breaches of privacy”.
Hamlins, which is representing Prince Harry and actress Sadie Frost in the legal action, said those involved had “become aware of compelling and highly distressing evidence that they have been the victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy”.
Also involved are Baroness Doreen Lawrence (pictured), model Elizabeth Hurley, Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish, who are all represented by law firm Gunnercooke.
They are accusing Associated Newspapers, the publisher of Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, of hiring private investigators to “secretly place listening devices inside people’s cars and homes”.
Other alleged crimes include commissioning people to listen into live phone calls while they were taking place, paying police officials for “inside, sensitive information”, impersonating individuals to obtain medical information by deception (otherwise known as “blagging”), and accessing bank accounts and other financial information “through illicit means and manipulation”.
Hamlins suggested these alleged acts may “represent the tip of the iceberg”.
The lawyers have not yet revealed when the alleged privacy breaches took place.
A spokesperson for Associated Newspapers said: “We utterly and unambiguously refute these preposterous smears which appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone hacking scandal concerning articles up to 30 years old.
“These unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims – based on no credible evidence – appear to be simply a fishing expedition by claimants and their lawyers, some of whom have already pursued cases elsewhere.”
The Daily Mail and Doreen Lawrence
Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen who was murdered in a racist attack in 1997, has previously had a good relationship with the Mail which campaigned for justice in his case including by publishing an infamous front page labelling his then-suspected killers “Murderers” and urging them to “sue us” if it was untrue.
Lawrence later launched the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust which partnered with the Daily Mail for several years to run the Stephen Lawrence Scholarship offering opportunities to young journalists with the aim of improving diversity in the industry.
The Associated Newspapers spokesperson said the “appalling and utterly groundless smears” of Lawrence appeared to rely on recent allegations in a Substack article by investigative journalist Michael Gillard of private investigator Jonathan Rees, who himself was jailed for seven years in 2001 for plotting to plant cocaine on an innocent woman.
Rees told Gillard “he was approached by a private investigator he had worked with in the past and who was now claiming to represent a group of lawyers with a pot of money to buy dirt about the Mail”.
The Associated Newspapers spokesperson said: “The Daily Mail has campaigned tirelessly for 25 years to obtain justice for Stephen Lawrence and other victims of injustice. The paper is known throughout Fleet Street for its work exposing corruption and incompetence in the police. It is not without significance that the Daily Mail published a three-part major investigative series into Rees’s corruption and alleged crimes.”
They said it was “deeply saddening that whoever is cynically and unscrupulously orchestrating these claims appears to have persuaded Baroness Lawrence – for whom the Mail has the greatest respect and admiration – to endorse” Rees.
“Associated Newspapers will contest these claims with the utmost vigour.”
Past phone-hacking claimants
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have already sued Associated Newspapers several times, including an ongoing libel battle over an article about Harry’s legal tussle with the Home Office. Last year Harry accepted “substantial” damages over “baseless, false and defamatory” allegations he snubbed the Royal Marines after stepping down as a senior royal.
Sir Elton and Furnish, Frost and Hurley have all previously received damages for phone-hacking from News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun and the News of the World, and Mirror Group Newspapers. Prince Harry has an ongoing hacking case against both.
The claimants will all be represented by well-known media lawyer David Sherborne of 5RB, who has acted for phone-hacking victims, “victims” of the media at the Leveson Inquiry, and recently helped Coleen Rooney successfully defend the “Wagatha Christie” libel case when she was sued by Rebekah Vardy.
Mail bosses deny hacking at Leveson Inquiry
Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, who edited the Daily Mail between 1992 and 2018, “unequivocally” condemned “phone hacking and payments to the police” to the Leveson Inquiry in 2011.
“Such practices are a disgrace and have shocked and shamed us all. They need to be purged from journalism and reforms instigated to prevent such criminal activities ever happening again.”
Jonathan Caplan, the counsel for Associated Newspapers at the time, told the inquiry that “so far as [Associated] is aware no journalist at Associated Newspapers has engaged in phone-hacking”.
“It does not bribe police officers and, in particular, it condemns the shameful practice of hacking the mobile phones of the victims of crime, or of their families,” he said.
Picture: Karwai Tang/WireImage
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