News International offers 'unreserved apology' to interior designer at the High Court
Kelly Hoppen, the stepmother of the actress Sienna Miller, yesterday settled her phone hacking claim against the News of the World by accepting £60,000 in damages and hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs.
The celebrity interior designer became one of the most high-profile litigants in the voicemail interception scandal after she claimed that her phone was targeted by a reporter from the now-defunct Sunday tabloid as recently as last year – long after the paper insisted any such malpractice had been stamped out.
At the High Court in London, lawyers for Rupert Murdoch's News International offered an "unreserved apology" to Ms Hoppen after her voicemails were accessed between 2004 and 2006 by the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
But the company said it had not admitted liability for the alleged later hacking of the 52-year-old's phone by the NOTW features writer Dan Evans between June 2009 and March 2010. The court was told Mr Evans had instead given "permanent undertakings" which had been accepted by Ms Hoppen.
In a hearing earlier this year, Mr Justice Vos, the judge presiding over the burgeoning number of civil hacking claims, was told that Mr Evans had accidentally dialled Ms Hoppen's mobile phone, including her direct dial voicemail number, because of "sticky keys" on his own handset and there had been no attempt to access her messages. The journalist, who was suspended while the allegations were investigated, lost his job in July along with more than 200 colleagues when the decision was taken to close the paper.
In a statement read in open court, Mark Thomson, the solicitor representing the designer, said: "The claimant considers that she is fully vindicated in respect of her claim."
The lawsuit brought by Ms Hoppen had been chosen as one of six "lead" cases due to be heard in January which would decide the level of settlements due to the victims of Mr Mulcaire and unnamed journalists on the newspaper who commissioned him.
It will now be replaced by a claim brought by the Chelsea star Ashley Cole, who is one of 60 celebrities, public figures and victims of crime who have filed damages claims for alleged hacking of their voicemails. A deadline set by Mr Vos for claims to be considered alongside the test cases brought an influx of additional new claimants last week, including Shaun Russell, whose wife and daughter were murdered by the hammer killer Michael Stone, and 7/7 hero Paul Dadge.
The court heard that Scotland Yard had now informed 452 people that they appeared in documents seized from Mr Mulcaire on which he noted the names of his targets and their personal details. More than 4,000 people are thought to feature in the 11,000 pages of material taken from private investigator's south London home in 2006.
The increasing scale of the litigation faced by News International is now expected to grossly exceed the £20m it had set aside to settle civil claims. The family of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler are close to finalising a £3m out-of-court settlement which is likely to have a knock-on effect on claims by other victims of crime.
The court heard that Ms Hoppen had been the subject of "numerous" articles in the NOTW between 2004 and 2006 which contained "intrusive and private" information.
It was alleged that the interior designer, whose clients have included the Beckhams and the chef Gary Rhodes, was targeted as a part of a "scheme" to regularly eavesdrop on the phone messages of individuals from showbusiness, politics and sport. Earlier this year, Ms Miller settled her phone hacking claim for £100,000.
Michael Silverleaf QC, for the paper, said it was making a "sincere and unreserved apology" to Ms Hoppen.
In a separate development, a pre-trial hearing before Mr Justice Vos heard that The Sun was facing a claim from the actor Jude Law that it had its own, separate arrangement with Mr Mulcaire to target his mobile phone.
The actor, who is Ms Miller's former fiancé, is suing The Sun over four articles published in 2005 and 2006. David Sherborne QC, for Mr Law, told the court that it was alleged the paper had an arrangement with the private investigator which was "almost identical to but quite separate from" the one operated by the NOTW.
Who's taken a payoff – and what they've got
News International's payout to Kelly Hoppen is the same figure awarded to Max Mosley, the former head of the FIA, Formula 1's governing body. He successfully sued the News of the World for breach of privacy, took his case to court in 2008, and won. The scale of damages was at the time a record for a privacy claim in a UK court.
In May this year the actress Sienna Miller settled her phone hacking claim with Rupert Murdoch's tabloid. Avoiding court, Ms Miller was paid £100,000. Because of the persistent invasions of her private life, her case was believed to hold the potential for an even bigger payout. The sum was similar to the NI settlement with the actress Leslie Ash and her husband Lee Chapman. Although not disclosed, the pair are believed to have received just over £100,000.
The former footballer Andy Gray had his phone hacked and in June this year accepted out-of-court damages of £20,000.
Others, like the former MP George Galloway, claim they have been offered "substantial sums of money" to settle and have refused. However, two high-profile settlements had, until recently, been the peak payouts in the scandal.
The publicist Max Clifford is believed to have received £1m to keep his case out of court. And the footballers' union boss Gordon Taylor was given £725,000 and substantial costs to sign a "confidentiality" deal that kept the scale of the hacking culture hidden for years.
However last month's £3m payout by the Murdoch media empire to the parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler set a new benchmark in the hacking scandal. Lawyers confirmed yesterday that 65 claims are still to be dealt with, and 452 other victims are waiting in what could be a long – and for NI a very expensive – queue.
The Independent, by Cahal Milmo and James Cusick