Heather Mills receives apology and payout in phone-hacking case

Ex-model receives ‘substantial’ payout as she settles case against News of the World

Heather Mills has received an apology at the high court after settling her phone-hacking case against the News of the World in return for a substantial financial payout as part of an agreement under which she dropped similar claims against the Sun.

The former wife of the Beatles singer Sir Paul McCartney said a “criminal, targeted smear campaign” over the course of a decade by the news outlet had destroyed her reputation and left her unable to carry on her charity work.

Mills was one of about 90 individuals, including Sir Elton John and Elizabeth Hurley, who recently settled their cases for invasion of privacy against News Group Newspapers, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled publisher that owns the News of the World and the Sun.

At a pre-trial hearing the high court heard claims from Mills’ lawyer that phone hacking was widespread at both newspapers, citing 141 articles published across the two titles that they believed were based on unlawful information gathering.

However, in common with other phone-hacking settlements, the settlement was reached on the basis that wrongdoing was confined to journalists at the defunct News of the World. The company made no admission of liability in relation to their allegations of voicemail interception or other unlawful information gathering at the Sun.

The cost of phone hacking has weighed heavily on the financial performance of the Sun’s publisher for the past decade, with the company setting aside £14.7m in its 2018 accounts to deal with costs relating to ongoing cases.

The enormous number of individuals involved means cases are still ongoing, with another tranche of claims being made, as lawyers continue to work their way through the backlog. The cost is significant at a time of collapsing newspaper sales, which have prompted the Sun to make substantial cuts to its editorial budgets.

The phone-hacking scandal has been ongoing since 2006, when the News of the World’s royal editor pleaded guilty to phone hacking. Five years later Murdoch ordered the closure of the newspaper after it was hit with a wave of hacking claims, amid a scandal that forced out Downing Street’s director of communications and led to the Leveson inquiry into press regulation.

Many of the phone-hacking cases that are currently being settled relate to articles about celebrities and other public figures that were published in the mid-2000s.

Mills said media intrusion after her separation from McCartney had made her life unbearable, with photographers camped outside her house. The former model, who settled the case alongside her sister, said she would have preferred “that these proceedings had culminated in a criminal prosecution”, adding that the stories based on phone hacking had damaged her relationships with friends and family.

Outside court Mills claimed she had been awarded “the highest media libel settlement in British legal history”, although the case related to phone hacking rather than libel and she failed to give any details on the sum involved.

“Every time a copy of a News Group publication is purchased, we are lining the pockets of the perpetuators of these lies. I would urge everyone, when you pick up your daily paper today to consider the integrity and motive of the publisher before believing what you read,” she said.

Mills recently announced plans to turn to turn a former crisp factory in County Durham into a vegan food plant creating meat substitutes from seaweed and pears.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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