MORE THAN £1 million in damages has been awarded to celebrities including Paul Gascoigne and Sadie Frost over phone hacking by Mirror Group Newspapers.
The ex-England footballer was awarded £188,250 at the High Court and actress Frost received £260,250.
Lawyers for phone-hacking victims claimed today’s payouts, totalling around £1.2 million, were “unparalleled”.
Trinity Mirror, which owns MGN, said it was considering an appeal, but revealed it had set aside a further £4 million to cover the cost of more claims, taking the total to £16 million.
Eight damages awards were announced at London’s High Court today after a three-week hearing in March to determine the extent of the wrongdoing at the group and what level of compensation was appropriate.
Mr Justice Mann also awarded £85,000 to TV executive Alan Yentob, £117,500 and £157,250 respectively to actresses Shobna Gulati and Lucy Taggart, and £155,000 to soap star Shane Richie.
TV producer Robert Ashworth, who was married to actress Tracy Shaw, received £201,250, and flight attendant Lauren Alcorn, who had a relationship with soccer star Rio Ferdinand, was awarded £72,500.
The judge said the victims had all suffered a “serious infringement of privacy” and the scale of hacking was “very substantial indeed”.
Gerald Shamash, solicitor for Gascoigne, said his client was relieved that the judge “has recognised, in his lengthy and detailed judgment, the sustained and intrusive impact that MGN’s repeated publication of his private information had on his life, family and friends”.
“It was important for Paul to bring an action against MGN in order to find out as much as possible about what had gone on.”
The lawyer said Gascoigne was “relieved to have finally found out that his private information was hacked, resulting in many articles that grossly intruded into his private life, rather than having been leaked by someone close to him”.
Frost’s solicitor, Mark Thomson of Atkins Thomson, said she was “thrilled with the outcome”.
He added: “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.”
In a statement, Trinity Mirror said it had accepted it needed to compensate phone hacking 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.
“There remains uncertainty as to how matters will progress. As the legal process has taken longer and the costs of settling claims is likely to be higher than previously anticipated, we are increasing our provision to deal with matters arising from phone hacking by £16 million. This is in addition to the £12 million provided in 2014.”
The judge’s ruling will provide a framework for resolving similar civil actions in the pipeline.
In previous hearings, David Sherborne, counsel for the eight claimants, described hacking as ‘’rife’’ across all three of the group’s national titles by mid-1999.
It involved the systematic gathering of private information for profit, using illegal means, and it was that context in which damages should be assessed by the judge, who faced an ‘’unparalleled’’ task.
He asked for damages which took into account distress, loss of personal autonomy, and the affront to dignity, and also reflected any increased injury to feelings caused by the conduct of the litigation, and the need for deterrence.
But MGN’s counsel, Matthew Nicklin QC, said the claim that the victims suffered ‘’unparalleled’’ harm was wrong and there was no reason why compensation for distress caused by misuse of private information should go beyond that awarded in other types of litigation.
Earlier in the year, Trinity Mirror published a ‘’sincere and unreserved’’ apology for the voicemail interception, saying it ‘’was unlawful and should never have happened’’.
Daniel Taylor, of Taylor Hampton, solicitors who represented three of the eight victims, said: ‘’Today’s judgment represents a milestone in the development of privacy law in the UK and the awarding of six-figure damages is truly historic and unparalleled, on a scale much greater than has ever been awarded previously.’’
James Heath, of Atkins Thomson, said the damages were “greater than any other publicly available award” in a privacy case and more substantial than in many libel cases
He said he “currently co-ordinating a large number of other claims being brought against Mirror Group Newspapers, and anticipate many more to come”.
As they left court, actresses Lucy Taggart and Shobna Gulati spoke to reporters.
Ms Taggart said: “It has been a very stressful time - seven years. I am just glad it is all over and I have got a smile on my face.”
Ms Gulati said: “I am really pleased to put it behind me. I didn’t want to talk about it in the first place.”
She said that the effect on her family had been “a big one”.