Funds are being raised to help an ex-tabloid journalist battle £64,500 in legal fees after he failed in a High Court bid to clear his name over a claim he had commissioned “unlawful data gathering”.
More than £2,000 has been raised for Dennis Rice after judge Mr Justice Mann threw out his application to the High Court as “totally without merit” earlier this month, leaving him facing the five-figure sum.
Rice (pictured) failed to get a witness statement made by lawyer Christopher Hutchings, in which he alleged that Rice was involved in unlawful data gathering as a journalist, revoked or amended by the court.
Hutchings is a partner at law firm Hamlins, which has access to unredacted copies of the Operation Motorman files seized by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2003 from private investigator Steve Whittamore.
Whittamore’s records relate to the use of his services – both legal and illegal – by UK news publishers between 1995 and 2003.
Rice’s name appears on the documents, but he denies having engaged the services of Whittamore beyond checks that were lawful while employed at the Sunday Mirror and News of the World in the late 1990s.
He has since left journalism and works as a therapist.
The claim against Rice was reported by news website Byline, which also ran Rice’s full rebuttal. Rice claimed the story affected his therapy business.
Rice is contesting the legal fees against him, which he has said are “completely disproportionate”.
The crowdfunding appeal surpassed its £1,500 target within days of being set up by Rice’s friends and fellow journalists. They say they want to use the extra donations to highlight what they claim is a “broken justice” system.
Rice said: “I am overwhelmed by the support of friends and colleagues. My concern now is dealing with a claim which is in effect Hamlins asking me to pay £21,500 a week to respond to an application I made three weeks [before appearing in court].”
A spokesperson for Hamlins said: “The costs order was obtained against Mr Rice by Hamlins LLP as lead solicitor for the claimants in the ongoing phone hacking litigation against News Group Newspapers.
“The order was made after the court dismissed Mr Rice’s application as being ‘totally without merit’. It is not appropriate to comment further at this stage”.
Separately, Rice is engaged in arbitration with Byline through press regulator Impress over its article about him.