The Daily Mail’s parent company is facing its first legal claim for phone hacking, after the former Liberal Democrat MP Sir Simon Hughes filed a case against the newspaper publisher.
Hughes is alleging that Associated Newspapers – the owner of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and MailOnline – misused his private information. He is expected to claim that the newspaper publisher employed a private investigator who improperly accessed his voicemail messages.
This is the first time the publisher of the Daily Mail will face a legal claim based on allegations of voicemail interception. Widespread use of this tactic at other outlets led to the closure of the News of the World and has mired both Rupert Murdoch’s News UK and the Mirror in decades of expensive legal action.
The former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, who is expected to be made a Conservative member of the House of Lords imminently, told the Leveson inquiry in 2011 that voicemail interception never took place at his company. “I cannot be any more unequivocal, that all my inquiries and all the evidence I’ve received, and having spoken to the editor of my group: our group did not hack phones,” he said.
Last week a separate group of celebrities and public figures, including Prince Harry, Doreen Lawrence, Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Sadie Frost and Elizabeth Hurley, alleged they were the victims of different forms of illegal information gathering by Associated Newspapers. Their lawyers claimed the publisher used tactics including the placing of listening devices in private homes and the accessing of private medical information. The company says the claims are “preposterous smears”.
Hughes ran to be the Lib Dem leader in 2006 only to have his campaign collapse amid tabloid coverage of his private life and relationships, which led to him being outed as bisexual against his will. He declined to comment on the detail of his own legal case.
However, convicted phone hackers Greg Miskiw and Glenn Mulcaire have previously told the website Expose.News that they targeted Hughes’s voicemail on behalf of the Mail on Sunday in early 2006. They alleged that Mulcaire not only listened to Hughes’s personal messages on behalf of the newspaper but blagged the personal details of a friend by pretending to be a Royal Mail worker.
Mulcaire told the website: “I remember going on the phone call to Simon Hughes’s male friend pretending to be a Special Delivery office manager. This was because the Mail on Sunday had a photographer outside. It was to make sure he was in, so that the Mail on Sunday could get a picture when he came out.”
The outlet has also previously published correspondence from Miskiw, who oversaw widespread phone hacking during his time at the News of the World. The emails, sent while Miskiw was working in a freelance capacity, purport to show him updating an executive at the Mail on Sunday on attempts to track down Hughes.
Miskiw, who died recently after expressing his regret at his phone-hacking activities, claimed: “On behalf of the Mail on Sunday, I asked Glenn Mulcaire to use ‘dark arts’ on Simon Hughes in order to track down any boyfriend that Hughes may have been seeing – it was a fishing exercise.”
In 2020 the Mail denied asking anyone to access Hughes’ voicemails: “This allegation – which relies on the word of a convicted phone hacker, without any corroboration – is utterly baseless and categorically denied. The Mail on Sunday has never commissioned anyone to hack phones, nor have they ever knowingly used information that was illegally acquired by Greg Miskiw.”
On Sunday, a spokesperson for Associated Newspapers said the company had yet to receive details of Hughes’s legal case: “Associated Newspapers Limited has not been served with any claim form by Simon Hughes and it is therefore in no position to comment.”
Until now Associated Newspapers has avoided the mass legal claims which have dogged rival British newspaper publishers. Lawyers for the group of celebrity claimants have said their filings are “the tip of the iceberg” and believe more cases against the Daily Mail publisher could be forthcoming.
Associated Newspapers will have to either convince a judge to strike out the claims as baseless, reach a settlement with the claimants, or fight the cases at trial, where allegations would be aired in public.
Hughes is a veteran of the legal battles over phone hacking. He has already received two separate financial settlements from News UK after he alleged his voicemails were illegally intercepted by the company’s journalists.
In 2021 Hughes received a substantial sum in damages after claiming his phone had been hacked by the Sun during a time that the tabloid was being edited by Rebekah Brooks, the current News UK chief executive. The company continues to deny his accusation that any phone hacking took place at the Sun but decided to settle rather than fight the case in open court.