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April 19, 2024

Hugh Grant settles claim against Sun publisher due to risk of £10m legal costs

In addition judge dismisses News Group Newspapers' bid for an initial trial on whether claims have been brought too late.

By PA Media

Hugh Grant has settled a High Court claim against the publisher of The Sun after being advised he risked being liable for £10m in legal costs if his case proceeded to a trial.

The actor brought legal action against News Group Newspapers (NGN) in relation to The Sun only, alleging he was targeted by journalists and private investigators, having previously settled a claim with the publisher in 2012 relating to the News Of The World.

He was among a number of individuals, including the Duke of Sussex, bringing claims against NGN.

Update: Judge denies Sun publisher’s bid for initial trial on whether cases are being brought too late. Scroll down for more information

Grant’s claim in relation to The Sun was due to be considered at a trial in January next year, but a preliminary hearing in the litigation against the publisher on Wednesday was told it had recently been settled.

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Anthony Hudson KC, representing NGN, told judge Mr Justice Fancourt that there were “currently 42 extant claims … that follows the recent settlement of Mr Grant’s claim”.

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David Sherborne, Grant’s barrister, confirmed in written arguments that the actor had “recently settled” his claim.

Sherborne, representing Prince Harry and others, told the judge that “the Duke of Sussex is subject to the same issues that Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant have been subject to, which is that the offers are made that make it impossible for them to go ahead”.

The barrister said the duke had previously said “he would continue to bring his claim”, adding that “settlement is forced upon” people bringing claims in the NGN litigation.

He said NGN has a “100% record” of “settling any claim before we reach trial”, with it seeming “overwhelming likely” that there might be no claims left by December.

NGN has previously denied any unlawful activity took place at The Sun.

Grant’s settlement comes after other high-profile individuals settled claims against NGN, including actress Sienna Miller, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne, comic Catherine Tate, radio presenter Chris Moyles, Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm, former Boyzone member Shane Lynch and actor Mathew Horne.

Hugh Grant says Sun publisher settlement money to be used towards press reform

In a series of posts on X, Grant said he had been offered “an enormous amount of money” to settle his case, with funds to be “repurposed” for press reform campaign groups like Hacked Off where he is a board member.

He said: “News Group are claiming they are entirely innocent of the things I had accused The Sun of doing – phone hacking, unlawful information gathering, landline tapping, the burglary of my flat and office, the bugging of my car, the illegal blagging of medical records, lies, perjury and the destruction of evidence.

“As is common with entirely innocent people, they are offering me an enormous sum of money to keep this matter out of court. I don’t want to accept this money or settle. I would love to see all the allegations that they deny tested in court.

“But the rules around civil litigation mean that if I proceed to trial and the court awards me damages that are even a penny less than the settlement offer, I would have to pay the legal costs of both sides.

“My lawyers tell me that that is exactly what would most likely happen here. Rupert Murdoch’s lawyers are very expensive. So even if every allegation is proven in court, I would still be liable for something approaching £10m in costs. I’m afraid I am shying at that fence.”

Grant continued: “Rupert Murdoch has spent over £1bn in damages to claimants and in lawyers’ fees, settling over 1,500 claims in this way. He seems remarkably determined that there shouldn’t be a trial of the facts.

“Murdoch’s settlement money has a stink and I refuse to let this be hush money. I have spent the best part of 12 years fighting for a free press that does not distort the truth, abuse ordinary members of the public or hold elected MPs to ransom in pursuit of newspaper barons’ personal profit and political power.

“So this money will repurposed via groups like Hacked Off into the general campaign to expose the worst excesses of our oligarch-owned press.”

Grant also thanked his legal team and “the courageous whistle-blowers who came over from the other side, and other brave witnesses who are providing much of the evidence”.

Sun publisher says settlement makes ‘commercial sense’

A spokesperson for NGN said: “In 2011, an unreserved apology was made by NGN to victims of voicemail interception by the News Of The World. Since then, NGN has been paying financial damages to those with proper claims.

“As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago. In some cases, it has made commercial sense for both parties to come to a settlement agreement before trial to bring a resolution to the matter.

“There are a number of disputed claims still going through the civil courts, some of which seek to involve The Sun. The Sun does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations.

“A judge recently ruled that parts of Grant’s claim were out of time and we have reached agreement to settle the remainder of the case. This has been done without admission of liability. It is in both parties’ financial interests not to progress to a costly trial.”

In a May 2023 ruling, Mr Justice Fancourt concluded Grant’s claim could proceed to trial, except for any allegations relating to phone hacking.

The judge found that Grant could have brought a claim for phone hacking sooner, as he had knowledge of it, but that his other allegations would have to be tried.

Judge denies Sun publisher’s bid for initial trial on time issue

On Wednesday, lawyers for NGN argued that there should be an initial trial over whether other claims against it, including Harry’s, have been brought too late.

However on Friday the judge dismissed this application on the basis that this initial trial, which would take about seven days, would not be able to be heard before the start of the overall trial already listed for January next year.

He said there was a “plainly considerable risk” of a preliminary trial “increasing costs overall and delaying” a full trial by up to two years.

He said the issue of limitation would be heard and determined as part of the overall trial.

The publisher had wanted a judge to consider whether those bringing legal action “could with reasonable diligence” have known, more than six years before issuing their challenges, facts that would lead them to discover they had “worthwhile” claims.

Hudson argued having this issue considered before a trial of the overall merits of the cases against it was the “most efficient” approach, claiming that 90% of cases against NGN may not reach trial in January.

Lawyers representing Harry and others opposed NGN’s bid, arguing it would be “highly disruptive and prejudicial” to those people expecting their cases to be heard next year.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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