Mirror defence: Claim of 'unparalleled' phone-hacking harm 'simply wrong and can be rejected'

A claim by lawyers for phone-hacking victims that they had suffered "unparalleled" harm was simply wrong, the High Court has heard.

Matthew Nicklin QC, for Mirror Group Newspapers, told Mr Justice Mann yesterday that "hurt feelings are hurt feelings", however caused, and there was no reason why compensation for distress caused by misuse of private information should be beyond that in other types of litigation.

David Sherborne, acting for eight claimants, has described hacking as "rife" across all three of the group's national titles by mid-1999.

It was about the systematic gathering of private information for profit, using illegal means, and it was in that context in which damages should be assessed by the judge, who faced an "unparalleled" task, he said.

Mr Justice Mann has heard often emotional evidence of the impact of the hacking from ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne, TV executive Alan Yentob, actress Sadie Frost, soap stars Shane Richie, Shobna Gulati and Lucy Taggart, TV producer Robert Ashworth – who was married to actress Tracy Shaw – and flight attendant Lauren Alcorn, who had a relationship with soccer star Rio Ferdinand.

He must make findings on the extent of the wrongdoing and the appropriate compensation in each case, which will provide a framework for resolving similar actions in the pipeline.

In his closing speech yesterday, Nicklin said that the claimants were entitled to one award – full and fair compensation for their hurt feelings and distress: "No more and no less".

Sherborne has called for damages which take into account distress, loss of personal autonomy and the affront to dignity, and also reflect any increased injury to feelings caused by the conduct of the litigation and the need for deterrence.

Nicklin said the claim that the harm caused by phone-hacking was unparalleled was "simply wrong and can be rejected".

He went on: "Whilst these claimants should never have been subjected to the actions of some of the defendant's employees, the hurt they have been caused bears no comparison with that of many who come before the courts."

No one had suffered personal harm, been consigned to a life of chronic pain or had their ability to work irreparably affected, and no one had suffered psychiatric harm needing therapy or long-term treatment, he said.

"Whilst no doubt they are genuinely shocked and upset and, in some cases, angry, for what happened to them, these feelings will pass. However serious they are, they will not have blighted their lives," he added.

"No one has claimed – or could they – that their lives have been ruined by the wrongful acts he or she have suffered."

Phone-hacking as a basis for a misuse of private information claim might be relatively novel but hurt feelings and distress were not novel when it came to compensation.

The harm experienced by a victim of phone-hacking was not quantitatively different in terms of assessment, from the hurt suffered in other kinds of cases which came before the court – such as harassment, intimidation, victimisation, bullying or discrimination, Nicklin said.

Last month, Trinity Mirror published a "sincere and unreserved" apology for the voicemail interception, saying it "was unlawful and should never have happened".

In a trading update, it said that the cost of resolving civil claims would be ''higher than previously envisaged'' and it was increasing the provision for dealing with them by £8m to £12m.

The hearing was adjourned until today, when the judge is expected to reserve his decision to a later date.

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