Mirror Group Newspapers targeted senior judges – “particularly those who granted anonymity injunctions in privacy proceedings” – for unlawful information-gathering, the High Court has heard.
Private investigators hired by the publisher of the Daily Mirror targeted “senior members of the judiciary”, including High Court and Court of Appeal judges, until “at least as late as the middle of 2011”, lawyers representing dozens of victims of alleged phone-hacking have said.
The astonishing claim was made at the latest hearing in the long-running litigation brought against MGN over alleged unlawful information-gathering ahead of a six-week trial which is due to begin in January.
The judges said to have been targeted were not identified in court documents seen by the PA news agency and no reference to the claims was made in documents filed by MGN’s lawyers.
David Sherborne – representing a number of claimants, including John Leslie and Martine McCutcheon – said there were currently 68 claims which had been filed against MGN, with 18 of those “eligible” to be heard at next year’s trial.
In written submissions, the barrister said recent disclosure by MGN of private investigators’ invoices revealed the publisher had targeted “High Court judges involved in high-profile privacy injunction proceedings and Court of Appeal judges”.
James Heath, a solicitor with Atkins Thomson, who represents some of the claimants, said in a witness statement: “Contrary to the popular impression that MGN’s newspapers ‘only’ targeted celebrities with its unlawful activities, MGN pursued anyone and everyone to suit its agenda in the most egregious way, including senior members of the judiciary, such as High Court judges, particularly those who granted anonymity injunctions in privacy proceedings – with such targeting continuing to be carried out at least as late as the middle of 2011.”
Sherborne told the court that several of the invoices which were recently provided to the claimants should have been provided before a high-profile 2015 trial of eight claims against the publisher, including those by Paul Gascoigne and Sadie Frost.
He added it was “truly shocking” that private investigators’ invoices relating to six of the eight claimants who previously went to trial were not previously disclosed.
Sherborne also applied to the court for permission to amend the claimants’ written case against MGN to argue that Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror, was “well aware of the extensive use of … unlawful information-gathering activities” at the paper.
Richard Spearman QC – representing MGN, which is defending the claims – said in written submissions that “Mr Morgan’s purported knowledge as to the extensive use of unlawful information-gathering activities is irrelevant” to whether MGN’s board or legal department was aware of alleged phone hacking.
Spearman added the allegation about Morgan “takes matters no further than the findings up to the level of editors”, which he said the High Court had already found in a previous judgment.
The court also heard that Major James Hewitt – who famously had an affair with Diana, Princess of Wales during her marriage to the Prince of Wales – had “in principle” agreed to settle his High Court claim against MGN last month.
The hearing before Mr Justice Mann, who is considering various applications for pre-trial disclosure, is due to conclude on Tuesday.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls