Lawyers acting for News of the World publisher News International have dismissed phone-hacking claims by Elle Macpherson’s former manager as “fantasy” and “fiction”.
Mary-Ellen Field has been one of the most outspoken alleged victims of phone-hacking at the defunct tabloid and has been a prominent figure in the Hacked Off campaign calling for reform of press regulation.
But at the High Court yesterday News International’s barrister Michael Silverleaf QC described Field’s case as “fantasy” and sought to have the case struck out at the High Court .
According to a report in The Independent, Silverleaf told the court that while the publisher had sympathy with Field there was “no evidence of her being a victim [of voicemail interception]” and the claim she had lodged was “fiction”.
Mr Justice Vos was reported to be “heavily critical of the way Ms Field’s counsel, Augustus Ullstein QC, had presented his case”.
The judge told Ullstein to ‘“put your money where your mouth is' and obtain evidence that, if it exists, should already have been presented to the court".
Justice Vos later granted an adjournment of the request to strike out the legal action, giving Field’s legal team time to question her former employer Macpherson.
Field’s allegations are explained at length on the Hacked Off website. She claims to have been accused of having a drink problem by Macpherson in 2005 and was sent to a rehab clinic in Arizona.
Field was later sacked, she says, after being blamed for a series of stories that appeared in the NoW.
In 2006, police investigating allegations of phone-hacking at the NoW told Macpherson that her name had appeared in evidence that later helped convict two people linked with the paper of phone-hacking offences in 2007.
The Australian supermodel, reports The Independent, has “remained silent on the matter since 2007 and claims that despite others receiving substantial compensation, she has not at any time sought nor received any settlement”.
Ullstein said Macpherson was “a prime witness who has thus far declined to assist [Ms Field] in the case", and had been a “recalcitrant and reluctant” witness in attempts to find out why Field was sacked.
She is due to answer questions likely to include “details of the messages that were left on her voicemail which she subsequently believed were hacked; what articles appeared in the NoWW that she believed contained information which could only have come from illegal voicemail interceptions; and whether or not she learned the identity of journalists alleged to have hacked into her messages”.
Depsite being among one of the first claimants to take action against the News of the World, Field’s case has been heard separately from other cases that resulted in significant out-of-court settlements.
It is also being heard sperately from 167 claims currently going through the court. Last week Jamie Theakston, Jeff Brazier and Colin Stagg were named as being among the latest names to settle their phone-hacking damages actions.