Animal rights activist Heather Mills has won what she described as a record settlement in her phone-hacking claim against Sun publisher News Group Newspapers.
Businesswoman and campaigner Mills, an ex-wife of Beatles star Sir Paul McCartney, and her sister Fiona settled claims relating to voicemail interception and unlawful information gathering at the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World in February.
The Mills sisters received an apology at the High Court in London today before Mr Justice Mann.
The settlement contains no admission of liability over allegations relating to the Sun.
The Mills sisters claimed that between 1998 and 2008 they experienced “strange activity with their telephones, journalists and photographers turning up in unexpected locations” and the publication of intrusive private information “without any apparent identifiable source”, according to a statement read in the High Court by their lawyer today.
The repeated publication of such information “caused a lot of distrust and suspicion” that a member of their close-knit group of family and friends was “betraying them and selling stories to the press”, it continued.
The sisters were told by the Metropolitan Police during the Operation Weeting investigation into phone-hacking in May 2012 that they may have been victims of unlawful activity.
They subsequently began proceedings against NGN making reference to 141 articles published in the News of the World and the Sun between 1999 and 2008.
A number of other articles were later identified that Heather Mills believes came from unlawful information gathering by NGN journalists.
Speaking outside the High Court in London this morning, Mills said: “We have been awarded the highest media libel settlement in British legal history.”
However the case was actually a privacy claim and it is unclear whether she was referring to only her own case or the total amount paid to all those who have settled privacy claims against phone-hacking by NGN journalists.
Mills added that she also received a “complete and unmitigated apology for the targeted smear campaign waged against us by News Group Newspapers including hacking, invasion of privacy and the publication of countless falsehoods and lies between 1999 and 2010”.
“My motivation to win this decade-long fight stemmed from a desire to obtain justice, not only for my family, my charities and myself, but for the thousands of innocent members of the public who like me have suffered ignominious treatment at the hands of one of the world’s most powerful media groups.
“What many people don’t realise is that NGN, owners of the now defunct News of the World and the current Sun newspaper, through the destruction of my public reputation have also indirectly destroyed thousands and thousands of other innocent lives through the profoundly negative impact that this has had on my landmine and animal and children charities and our abilities to raise funds.”
Mills added that the actions of NGN had an “extremely detrimental impact” on her personal life and her family.
When asked if this was the end of her litigation against NGN, Mills replied: “This is the end for now – unless anything else pops up.”
The undisclosed sum of damages was described as “substantial” in court.
In a statement in open court today, Ben Silverstone for NGN offered the company’s “sincere apologies” to the Mills sisters “for the distress caused to them by the invasion of their privacy by individuals working for or on behalf of the News of the World”.
“The defendant accepts that such activity should never have taken place and that it had no right to intrude into the private lives of Ms Heather Mills or Ms Fiona Mills in this way,” he added.
Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire