Celebrities receive record £1.2m in phone hacking damages against Mirror Group Newspapers
Damages totalling £1.2 million have been awarded to celebrities against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for phone hacking.
Actress Sadie Frost has received what is believed to be the highest ever award for phone hacking at £260,250.
Lawyers for the victims’ said the damages were without precedent and represented a milestone in the development of the law in this area.
Mr Justice Mann in the High Court in London announced eight awards following a three-week hearing in March to assess the scale of hacking at MGN and a suitable level of compensation.
The court heard that the practice took place on an “industrial scale” and made the News of the World’s phone hacking activities look like a “small cottage industry”.
The judge awarded actresses Shobna Gulati and Lucy Taggart £117,500 and £157,250 respectively; actor Shane Ritchie £155,000 and TV executive Alan Yentob £117,500.
TV producer Robert Ashworth, former husband of actress Tracy Shaw, was awarded £201,250 while flight attendant Lauren Alcorn, who was in a relationship with the footballer Rio Ferdinand, was given £72,500.
Trinity Mirror, owner of MGN, more than doubled its fund for claims from £12m to £28m and said it was considering appealing the decision.
Mr Justice Mann said the awards were “far more substantial” than in other privacy or libel cases because the “invasions of privacy involved were so serious and prolonged”.
He described the scale of hacking as “very substantial indeed” and added: “People whose private voicemail messages were hacked so often and for so long and had significant parts of their private lives exposed and then reported on are entitled to significant compensation.”
He allocated £10,000 for every year a victim suffered hacking and added sums for distress.
In the case of Ms Frost, the figure she was awarded resulted from 30 articles written about her over four years.
This meant that in addition to the money she received as a result of the articles, she was given £40,000 for the period of hacking, £30,000 for sustained distress as well as a further £10,000 for activities of private investigators.
Ms Frost’s solicitor, Mark Thomson, of Atkins Thomson, said: “It was important for Sadie to bring an action against MGN in order to find out as much as possible about what had gone on.
“She accepts, reluctantly, that she will never know the full extent of the unlawful activities by MGN but is relieved to have finally found out that her private information was hacked rather than having been leaked by someone close to her.”
The ruling has established a framework for future claims.
Mr Justice Mann said: “It will be apparent that my awards of damages in this case are very substantial - far more substantial than in any hitherto reported privacy case.”
He added: “The length, degree and frequency of all this conduct explains why the sums I have awarded are so much greater than historical awards. People whose private voicemail messages were hacked so often and for so long, and had very significant parts of their private lives exposed, and then reported on, are entitled to significant compensation.”
Trinity Mirror acknowledged that it needed to compensate victims but added:“However, our initial view of the lengthy judgment is that the basis used for calculating damages is incorrect and we are therefore considering whether to seek permission to appeal.”