Why the 'enormity' of Mirror phone-hacking prompted biggest ever privacy awards by a UK judge

Trinity Mirror has said it is likely to appeal privacy damages payouts of £1.2m to eight victims of its phone-hacking activities after contrasting them to personal injury payouts.

Mr Justice Mann justified the unprecedented awards in an excoriating 200-page judgment which lays out in detail the intensive nature of illegal invasions of privacy by journalists working for the Mirror titles over a period of several years.

Yesterday Trinity Mirror chief executive Simon Fox said: “I deeply regret the activity which has gone on in the past and the distress we have caused the claimants…However the award of damages made today appears out of all proportion to personal injury claims or to any previous privacy case and that is why we are considering whether to seek permission to appeal.”

He also yesterday contrasted the awards with the £350,000 offered to each of the parents of two children killed by a faulty boiler in a Corfu hotel.

But explaining why the damages were so large, Mr Justice Mann said: “The fact that they are greater than any other publicly available award results from the fact that the invasions of privacy involved were so serious and so prolonged.”

Mann was also clearly unimpressed by Trinity Mirror’s refusal for years to accept phone-hacking took place or to apologise to victims until it was forced to by the recent legal action.

He said: “Until relatively recently the Mirror group has firmly and publicly denied knowledge of any phone-hacking activities at any of its titles. Various executives and employees told the Leveson Inquiry that it did not happen, at least on their respective watches.”

The Mirror printed a page two apology and wrote to phone-hacking victims in February this year, a month before the three-week trial to decide the level of damages for the eight claimants.

The damages for invasion of privacy awarded against Trinity Mirror yesterday were as follows:

  • Footballer Paul Gascoigne: £188,250
  • Actress Sadie Frost: £260,250.
  • BBC executive Alen Yentob: £85,000
  • Actress Shobna Gulati: £117,500
  • Actress Lucy Taggart: £157,250
  • Actor Shane Ritche: £155,000
  • TV producer Robert Ashworth: £201,250
  • Flight attendant Lauren Acorn: £72,500

Mr Justice Mann said: “I find that the apologies were made at least partly as a tactical matter with an eye to the forthcoming trial.”

He also expressed concern at the extra distress caused to claimants by the way they were cross examined by Trinity Mirror’s lawyer.

He said that Sadie Frost (pictured above, PA) and Alan Yentob were “cross-examined in a manner which was, in my view, plainly inconsistent with the contrition expressed in the apologies I have identified above”.

He said: "The length, degree and frequency of all this conduct explains why the sums I have awarded are so much greater than historical awards. People whose private voicemail messages were hacked so often and for so long, and had very significant parts of their private lives exposed, and then reported on, are entitled to significant compensation."

And he hinted that Trinity Mirror could face further damages in these eight cases if it is not forthcoming about the extent of the intrusion victims suffered.

He said: "If it is to be the case that the claimants are to be kept in perpetual ignorance as to the detail of the information that the journalists heard then I would wish to consider whether the damages attributable to the general hacking that went on should be increased to cover that additional factor."

The judge said: "It would be quite wrong to confine any damages to compensation for distress, or injured feeling, which they experienced from articles published at this time, and then for additional distress when the enormity (which in my view is the right word) of what happened to them was slowly revealed via information from the police, disclosure and (to a degree, but not fully) admissions by the newspapers."

Yesterday's awards are the biggest ever privacy damages awarded by a UK judge. News Corp has made bigger settlements out of court, including £2m to the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler (with a further £1m given to charities).

Looking in detail at two of the claimants, here is how Mr Justice Mann explained the size of the awards:

Alan Yentob

  • His claim: £125,000
  • Trinity Mirror’s offer: £10,000
  • Damages awarded: £85,000

Yentob (picture: PA) was targeted by the Mirror titles because of his connections with high-profile celebrities through his work as a senior BBC executive.

Because he was “immensely busy” he made “extensive use” of his voicemail.

Mr Justice Mann said that “the material available to the Mirror journalists who hacked Mr Yentob was wide-ranging, sometimes highly confidential, usually private”.

The judgment states that Yentob’s phone was targeted from 1999 to 2006 at least twice a day, and often several times a day,

Yentob only found out he had been hacked after the event, after being contacted by the Met Police.

He told the court he felt he had been “violated on a truly massive scale”.

Yentob said he would have been partly appeased by a prompt apology but that he regarded the apology which came shortly before the trial as “feeble”.

Yentob’s award included a “modest amount” of aggravated damages for the way he was cross-examined and also took into account the fact that Trinity Mirror’s earlier denials of involvement in phone-hacking had added to his hurt.

Sadie Frost

  • Her claim: £529,500 (without aggravated damages)
  • Trinity Mirror’s offer: £30,000
  • Damages awarded: £260,250

Trinity Mirror journalists hacked actress Sadie Frost’s voicemails over a period of four years from 2002 to 2006.

She was on Sunday Mirror reporter Dan Evans’ "back pocket list" of people whose voice messages he hacked into twice a day.

There were also 35 private investigator invoices relating to Frost from 2003 to 2006 which related to unspecified “unlawful” intrusion.

The judge said: “These compound the persistent and frequent invasions from phone hacking.”

Trinity Mirror accepts that 27 articles were published as a result of invasions of privacy.

Damages awarded per article range from £1,000 to £25,000.

Mr Justice Mann also awarded a further £30,000 for the "sustained period of distress and upset which has continued after the hacking stopped, and the effects still exist".

A further £37,500 was awarded because her phone and those of her associates were “hacked a lot over a considerable period (4½ years) and a lot more of her private life, thoughts and activities were exposed to the journalists than has appeared in the articles”. 

The intrusive activities of private investigators commissioned by the Mirror led to a further £10,000 damages.

Sample articles:

"Nicole and Jude; friendship ‘caused Sadie to crack up’"

2 February 2003, Sunday Mirror

Damages: £25,000

This article reports that Law and Nicole Kidman had formed a close friendship which was said to be the real reason behind Miss Frost’s "plunging into depression and their marriage problems".

Mr Justice Mann: “This article represents a serious intrusion into Miss Frost’s personal relationships and mental health, including a reference to self-harm. No particular attempt was made to justify it. Some very private messages must have been listened to to obtain the information underlying it.”

“Sadie has been through a hell of a lot…it’s hardly surprising she has had a few drinks”

6 October 2005,  Daily Mirror

Damages: £25,000.

This reports that Frost had started attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Mr Justice Mann: "This article is particularly serious, and Miss Frost said she was particularly horrified by it. It is plain enough now that attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous ought to be treated as private information, as the Campbell decision in the previous year had established [model Naomi Campbell was pictured by the Mirror coming out of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting] . It is particularly surprising that, in the light of that decision, an editor should have allowed this article to be published.

"Miss Frost gave some clear and compelling evidence about how upsetting this article was, together with its attendant circumstances of photographers, as she put it, waiting in the bushes for her to come out of the meeting. Her belief, uncontradicted by the defendant, was that the photograph which accompanied the article was taken as she came out of the meeting (contrast the caption on the article). She was tracked down somewhere where she thought she would clearly have some protection from exposure. This incident led her to believe that everywhere she turned there was a nightmare."

"I can’t help myself. Pete’s everything! Like…really good-looking…and really dangerous – what Kate told friend"

28 January 2005, Daily Mirror

Damages: £3,500

This was an article about a new relationship formed by Frost's friend, the supermodel Kate Moss, and the largely disapproving views of various of her friends and family.

“The significance of this article for Miss Frost is that it contains an alleged quote from her. Miss Frost said that this was indeed the sort of thing that she was saying privately to her sister or other close friends, but never to the press. To have it published was important, because it led Ms Moss to think that Miss Frost had indeed spoken to the press about Ms Moss’s relationship, and increased tension between them.”

Read the judgement in full (redacted for legal reasons)

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