A number of celebrities and high-profile figures have settled phone hacking claims against the publisher of the News Of The World, the High Court has heard.
Statements were read before Mr Justice Fancourt on behalf of 15 celebrities and other figures, including actor Sean Bean (pictured), Texas lead singer Sharleen Spiteri and ex-cricketer and commentator Shane Warne.
News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of the now-defunct newspaper, has agreed to pay “substantial damages” to each of the claimants and also pay their legal costs.
The publisher, through its legal team, made public apologies to each of the claimants for the actions of the News Of The World, but did not admit any liability in relation to allegations of phone hacking at one of its other newspapers, The Sun.
The group who have settled cases also includes actresses Julia and Nadia Sawalha and Michelle Collins, ex-television presenter Dani Behr, singer Dane Bowers, and former Coronation Street actors Richard Fleeshman and Quintin Lawson – also known as Charlie Lawson – who played Jim McDonald in the popular soap opera.
The court also heard statements on behalf of agent Jane Epstein, Anne Diamond’s husband Michael Hollingsworth, former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, former journalist Louise Port and Natalie Cecil, the ex-wife of racehorse trainer Henry Cecil.
In addition, Sienna Miller and Paul Gascoigne asked a High Court judge to rule in their favour in a dispute with NGN. They have both settled hacking claims but NGN takes issue with the wording of a statement they wish to be read to the court on their behalf.
The judge is also being asked to decide what words should be included in a statement on behalf of former Liberal Democrat MP and Hacked Off executive director Dr Evan Harris.
Barrister David Sherborne, who is representing the claimants, told the court the matter was of great importance to them, as demonstrated by the fact Miller has flown to the UK from the US to attend the hearing.
Anthony Hudson QC, representing NGN, said the three claims linked to the statements under dispute were “explicitly settled on the basis of no admission of liability”, and that allegations in the statements were “in reality being presented as fact and that is inappropriate”, adding that this “runs completely contrary to the basis on which the claimants settled”.
Sherborne told the court that Ms Miller was “perfectly entitled” to include certain details in her statement, pointing to case law on unilateral statements in open court which he said made it “very clear” that she should be “allowed to say what she felt was hurtful to her, damaging, the effect of the publication and what she wants to say about the settlement”.
In a statement read on behalf of Sean Bean, who has appeared in a number of films and television series including Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones, his solicitor Elizabeth McClenan said he issued proceedings in May 2020 after receiving information from the Metropolitan Police.
She said he identified a number of articles containing his “private and confidential information” published between 1996 and 2011, as a result of which he “became suspicious” as to who was the source.
She told the court: “The claimant has accepted the defendant’s offer to resolve this claim on terms confidential between the parties, but which involve the defendant agreeing to pay substantial damages to the claimant as well as his reasonable legal costs of bringing the claim.”
In a statement read on behalf of Spiteri, her solicitor Callum Galbraith told the court she was an “obvious person for the press to target”, both as a result of her success with Texas and her friendship with a number of people in the public eye, including members of Paul McCartney’s family.
Galbraith said the singer had identified a number of articles published between 1998 and 2009 which she claimed contained her private information.
He said: “Articles published reported on matters relating to, for example, Ms Spiteri’s separation from her then long-term partner (a private matter which she claimed was not then known to her close family), her home, her whereabouts and the birth of her daughter.
“Ms Spiteri believes that the publication of the articles had a harmful effect on her private and family life and is appalled she will never regain control of her private information.”
Galbraith said she “became suspicious” as to who was providing the confidential information, adding: “Ms Spiteri believes that the publication of the articles generated distrust which impacted on her relationships and this has caused her considerable distress, upset and anger.”
On behalf of NGN, Ben Silverstone said: “The defendant is here today, through me, to offer its sincere apologies to Ms Spiteri for the distress caused to her by the invasion of her privacy by individuals working for or on behalf of the News Of The World.
“The defendant acknowledges that such activity should never have taken place, and that it had no right to intrude into the private life of Ms Spiteri.”
Similar statements were read on behalf of each of the claimants, and apologies to each of them on behalf of NGN then followed.
David Sherborne, representing Shane Warne, said the Australian former cricketer brought proceedings in May 2020 after the Metropolitan Police informed him details including his date of birth and mobile phone number had appeared in the notes of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
The barrister told the court: “The claimant identified a number of articles he claimed contained his private and confidential information which were published by the defendant’s newspapers between 1999 and 2011.
“During this time the claimant used his voicemail extensively – particularly whilst playing cricket – and he would regularly receive and leave voicemail messages.”
Ben Hamer, representing former EastEnders actress Michelle Collins, said she issued proceedings against NGN in September 2019 and had relied on 47 articles published between 1996 and 2010 which she claimed “contained intrusive and personal information about her private life and relationships”.
He said she alleged the obtaining of her private information was “consistent with the interception of her voicemail messages”.
Hamer said Collins alleged that the publication of the articles “had a damaging effect on her career and her private life, and that it caused lasting damage to her relationships with family and friends, some of which she believes can never be repaired”.
Hamer told the court that NGN had agreed to pay Collins “substantial damages” and her legal costs and apologised for “the distress caused to her by the invasion of her privacy by individuals working for or on behalf of the News Of The World”.
Cecil, whose lawyer said she was “thrust” into the public spotlight at an early age due to her marriage to horse trainer Sir Henry, said afterwards in a statement: “The unsolicited intrusions into my private life through phone hacking and other unlawful activities caused me immeasurable distress and had an enormous impact on my personal relationships.”
Since the phone-hacking scandal led to the closure of the News Of The World in 2011, NGN has settled a number of damages claims concerning unlawful information-gathering – but the publisher has never admitted liability in relation to alleged phone hacking at The Sun.
A hearing relating to further claims which have not yet been resolved will be held later on Wednesday.
Picture: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images