Doreen Lawrence and Prince Harry are among a list of famous figures launching legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail over the alleged misuse of their private information, including an accusation relating to the placing of listening devices in private homes.
Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost have also issued claims. Their lawyers issued a statement claiming they have “compelling and highly distressing evidence” they have been the “victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers.
The group claimed this could be the “tip of the iceberg” and there may be many more alleged victims after the legal papers were filed at the high court in London on Thursday.
The group’s allegations of illegal activity involving the publisher of the Mail, Mail on Sunday and MailOnline include:
The hiring of private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside people’s cars and homes.
The commissioning of individuals to surreptitiously listen in to, and record, people’s live, private telephone calls while they were taking place.
The payment of police officials, with allegedly corrupt links to private investigators, for sensitive inside information.
The impersonation of individuals to obtain medical information from private hospitals, clinics, and treatment centres by deception.
The accessing of bank accounts, credit histories and financial transactions through illicit means and manipulation.
Lady Lawrence’s decision to start legal action against the newspaper group is particularly notable given the Daily Mail led a campaign for her son’s killers to be brought to justice. On one infamous front page, the newspaper ran the headline “Murderers” above pictures of five men they accused of killing Stephen Lawrence in a racist attack in 1993.
“The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us,” the newspaper said. In 1999, a review of the Metropolitan police prompted by the investigation into the murder concluded that the force was institutionally racist. In 2012, two of the men were found guilty of the murder.
The Mail has regularly held up its work on the case as a triumph of campaigning journalism. The former editor Paul Dacre took an interest in the story after realising Stephen Lawrence’s father, Neville, had been working as a decorator on his house.
It is understood the allegations brought by Lawrence include information gathered about her, her family and associates before the Mail supported the family with their “Murderers” headline.
Specific articles published by the Mail about the Lawrence case are said to have been examined by Lawrence’s lawyers as to the sources of the information contained in them.
Rival newspaper publishers, such as Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, have spent the last 15 years dealing with hundreds of claims of illegal activity at their newspapers, often relating to phone hacking or obtaining material illegally.
Associated Newspapers has escaped the same barrage of lawsuits and always strongly denied engaging in phone hacking at its outlets, although it has been dogged by accusations about its use of private investigators.
In a statement at the time, the publisher said: “It would seem, for the most part, [that the use is] related to the tracing of individuals’ addresses and phone numbers”, and that “many of these cases would have been covered by public interest defences. Indeed it is good practice that matters concerning individuals in the news should be put to them before publication to ensure accuracy and give the opportunity to offer comment.
“To do this it is vital to trace addresses and telephone numbers which in the main could be obtained through legal means.”
The court filings, first noted by Byline Investigates and its sister site Expose.News, will place the statements by the Daily Mail over the last decade under scrutiny. Dacre, the newspaper’s editor between 1992 and 2018, has always denied that phone hacking took place at his outlet.
Neville Lawrence has credited the Daily Mail with helping to achieve the verdict against two of his son’s killers.
He told BBC Radio London last year: “I did a lot of work in Paul Dacre’s house. I used to see a car picking him up in the mornings, taking him to work, bringing him back in the evenings.”
He decided to phone Dacre directly after the Daily Mail mentioned his son’s murder in an article about a riot and sent reporters to interview him. He asked for the name of the editor so he could complain and realised it was his former employer.
“The following morning I rang the Daily Mail’s office to speak to Paul Dacre. He said to me: ‘Neville, I didn’t know it was you’. I said: ‘But Mr Dacre, you’ve met my kids.’
“I used to take my children to places where I work. He had met Stephen and Stuart. Because of that, the Daily Mail has been one of the biggest supporters for us over this story.”
Associated Newspapers vehemently denied the allegations.
A spokesman for the company said: “We utterly and unambiguously refute these preposterous smears which appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone hacking scandal concerning articles up to 30 years old.
“These unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims – based on no credible evidence – appear to be simply a fishing expedition by claimants and their lawyers, some of whom have already pursued cases elsewhere.”
• This article was amended on 7 October 2022. It was in 2012 that two men were found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, not 2022 as an earlier version said. And the review which concluded that the Metropolitan police was institutionally racist, the Macpherson report, was prompted by the original investigation into the murder, not by the later trial.