Duchess to receive ‘significant damages’ over phone-hacking

The Duchess of York headed the list of 17 people who settled their phone-hacking damages claims yesterday.

Uri Geller arrives at the High Court to hear his settlement claim against News Group Newspapers.
Uri Geller arrives at the High Court to hear his settlement claim against News Group Newspapers.

She received a “comprehensive and categoric” apology and a “significant payment in damages” from News Group Newspapers (NGN), said solicitor Paul Tweed after the announcements at London’s High Court.

“Notwithstanding this successful outcome, my client remains extremely concerned that questions beyond the scope of these legal proceedings still need to be answered in relation to other instances of inappropriate and extreme intrusion into her private life,” said Mr Tweed, senior partner at law firm Johnsons.

Other celebrities who received damages, costs and a public apology from NGN were singer James Blunt, actors Christopher Eccleston and Hugh Grant, entertainer Uri Geller, former Labour minister Geoffrey Robinson, actress and singer Kerry Katona, and presenters June Sarpong and Jeff Brazier.

Less well-known names included anthropologist and adventurer Christopher Terrill, Hilary Perrin, Labour’s director of regional organisation, and Richard Reardon, the parish priest of singer Charlotte Church and her parents.

None of the payments were disclosed – except in the case of Colin Stagg, who was wrongly accused of the murder of Rachel Nickell – and is to receive £15,500 plus costs.

David Sherborne, counsel for the Duchess of York, told Mr Justice Vos: “During the period from 2000 until 2006 the claimant experienced unusual activity on her mobile phone.

“The claimant also noticed that journalists and/or photographers appeared to know her location in advance, meaning that when she arrived at functions or planned events, it was often the case that journalists or photographers were already present.”

She commenced proceedings last year for “misuse of private information, breach of confidence and harassment in respect of the interception of her telephone messages”.

He told the court that the Duchess was “targeted” and voicemail messages on her mobile phone “were intercepted for the News of the World over a considerable period of time”.

He added: “I am here today to announce that NGN has accepted liability and agreed to pay damages to the claimant plus her legal costs.”

Anthony Hudson, for NGN, offered its “sincere apologies” for the damage and the distress caused.

“NGN acknowledges that the information should never have been obtained unlawfully in the manner in which it was, and that NGN is liable for misuse of private information and breach of confidence.”

Hugh Grant, who is to donate 100 per cent of his damages plus an additional personal donation to Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press, was targeted at various times from about 2004 until the closure of the News of the World.

His solicitor-advocate Mark Thomson said: “The claimant was particularly distressed to learn that he had wrongly mistrusted and avoided certain friends and acquaintances in the past, and would never find out the full extent of the defendant’s misuse of his private information.”

Mr Sherborne said that Christopher Eccleston was a private individual who has always taken care to keep his personal life out of the press and was “shocked and distressed” to discover his voicemail had been intercepted on 16 separate occasions.

The court heard that James Blunt’s concern at being targeted was exacerbated by the fact 
that, during the relevant period, he was in telephone contact 
with serving members of the armed services who were on 
operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr Thomson said that the defendant’s unlawful activities caused distrust and arguments between Jeff Brazier and the late Jade Goody, with whom he had two children.

“He is very distressed that he can now never apologise to Ms Goody for the times that he did not believe her despite her denials that she was the source of particular private information in the public domain.”

During the hearing – the 13th case management conference ahead of a trial in June to assess compensation in any outstanding actions – Hugh Tomlinson QC said that 144 out of the 169 claims on the register had settled.

Currently, seven cases appeared to be definitely proceeding to trial because settlement negotiations had not been successful.

The litigation is due back before the court on March 8.