Hacked Off: Mirror faces hundreds of hacking claims but could curb costs by joining Leveson-compliant press regulator

Campaign group Hacked Off has predicted that Trinity Mirror will face hundreds more phone-hacking claims.

It follows news this morning that a judge has awarded £1.2m in privacy damages to eight Mirror phone-hacking targets: Paul Gascoigne, Sadie Frost, Alan Yentob, Shobna Gulati, Lucy Taggart, Shane Ritchie, Robert Ashworth and Lauren Alcorn.

The claims run to an average £150,000 each. The previous record privacy award by a judge was £60,000 to Max Mosley in 2008 after the News of the World published details of his extra marital orgy with five paid dominatrices.

Trinity Mirror today immediately increased estimated hacking scandal costs from £12m to £28m. Hacked Off said it believes the publisher could face ten times this level of liability.

Voicemail interception at the Sunday Mirror, Daily Mirror and People took place between 1999 and 2010.

Hacked Off associate director Evan Harris said: “This shows criminal conduct taking place over a ten-year period and even after the arrest and conviction in 2006/07 of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman for hacking at the News of the World.

“Questions must be asked about the failure of Trinity Mirror Group over the ten years, from 1999 to 2010, to prevent or even detect the wrongdoing and their failure for years, after allegations first broke in 2010, to investigate properly and identify what had happened.

“Trinity Mirror Group to all intents and purposes denied any hacking, refused to acknowledge evidence of hacking and vigorously contested civil claims until a sudden U-turn last September. Investors and employees are entitled to ask what on earth the board were doing in this time.

“We predict that there will be hundreds of claims, in addition to the existing 75, and that the Mirror Group has underestimated what it needs to set aside by a factor of ten.

“Given that the Mirror has lost this case in every possible way, shareholders and staff are entitled to demand that the directors get their heads out of the sand and admit the full scale of the costs and damages they now face, which have been hundreds of millions of pounds for News Group.”

Harris suggested that Trinity Mirror could limit its liabilities by signing up to a “Leveson-compliant” press regulator.

This appears to be a suggestion to sign up to rival press regulator IMPRESS which is applying for official recognition under the Parliament-backed Royal Charter on press regulation.

Trinity Mirror's national titles are currently members of industry-backed regulator IPSO, which does not comply with the Royal Charter.

IMPRESS includes a low-cost arbitration service for settling privacy and libel cases.

Under the Crime and Courts Act, members of a Royal Charter-compliant press regulator do not have to pay the other sides’ legal costs even if they lose libel and privacy court cases. This provides an incentive for claimants to accept damages awards decided by the arbitration panel.

Harris said: “Hacked Off, which support victims of hacking and other forms of press abuse, does not want to see any newspaper close as a result of this. Trinity Mirror Group has chance to save hundreds of jobs and withstand the financial threat by joining a Leveson-compliant recognised regulator as soon as possible.

“By doing so they can shelter under the arbitration scheme which would protect them from enormous court costs. Trinity Mirror should be paying journalists’ wages not lawyers’ fees.”

So far, the hacking scandal at the News of the World has cost News Corp at least £312m.

Trinity Mirror plc today said: "We note the judgment released today by Mr Justice Mann following the conclusion of the civil trial for the assessment of damages for eight representative claimants arising from phone hacking.

"Our subsidiary MGN Limited has already accepted that it should pay appropriate compensation to individuals who were the target of phone hacking. 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 board is confident that the exposures arising from these historic events are manageable and do not undermine the delivery of the group's strategy for growth.

"Further updates will be made if there are any significant developments or our estimate of the financial exposure was to materially change."

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