Hacked Off welcomes Supreme Court rejection of Mirror hacking appeal

Posted: March 23, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Responding to the rejection by the Supreme Court of the Mirror’s attempt to appeal the judgment of Mr Justice Mann in the Mirror Hacking trial (which was upheld by the Court of Appeal), Joint Executive Director of Hacked Off Dr Evan Harris said:

“Victims of criminality by Mirror editors, executives and senior reporters will welcome the Court’s decision to put an end to the Mirror’s attempt to wriggle like the fish on the end of a hook from the effect of the damning judgment in the civil hacking trial last year.

“It’s time that the Mirror recognised the scale of criminal intrusion that took place, and the scale of their utter failure to prevent it, detect it, investigate it or admit it over many years.  The newspaper is facing the prospect of hundreds of claims and we would encourage anyone who feels they may have been hacked to contact us for advice.

“The outcome of this case – final as it now is – will now also clearly apply to hacking claims still being made against the News of the World and the Sun. 

“The public will be appalled that not a single executive from the Mirror has been subject to disciplinary action, and those responsible for allowing this to happen and for failing to investigate it have received fat pay-offs and share options.  It is no wonder that victims and the public have called for the promised Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, which will investigate the hacking cover up, to commence after trials have finished.”

 

Note for Editors

Click here for the ruling.

Original judgment, Gulati v MGN Ltd:

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2015/1482.html

Court of Appeal, Gulati v MGN Ltd:

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/representative-claimants-v-mgn.pdf

Paragraph 106 of the Court of Appeal judgment describes the behaviour of MGN:

“106. Indeed, so far as I can see, there were no mitigating circumstances at all. The employees of MGN instead repeatedly engaged in disgraceful actions and ransacked the respondents’ voicemail to produce in many cases demeaning articles about wholly innocent members of the public in order to create stories for MGN’s newspapers. They appear to have been totally uncaring about the real distress and damage to relationships caused by their callous actions. There are numerous examples in the articles of the disclosure of private medical information, attendance at rehabilitation clinics, domestic violence, emotional calls to partners, details of plans for meeting friends and partners, finances and details of confidential employment negotiations, which the judge found could not have been made if the information had not been obtained by hacking or some other wrongful means. The disclosures were strikingly distressing to the respondents involved.”

The following extracts from the original judgment demonstrate the extent of the cover up at MGN and highlight the need for Leveson Part 2:

  1. The claimants variously rely on various aspects of the conduct of the defendant as giving rise to aggravated damages.  They are:

(f)           The deliberate impression given to the public that no unlawful activity had taken place and that the defendant was unaware of that activity.  Disingenuous statements were said to have been given to the Leveson inquiry and subsequently.

  1. (f) requires some more exposition.  Until it made admissions in this litigation, no prior admissions had been made by or on behalf of the Mirror group as to the existence of phone hacking.  Public pronouncements were made which presented the posture that it had not gone on.  The claimants rely on these as aggravating the damage.  The relevant pronouncements were as follows:

(i)  An internet report on Sky News referred to the contents of a statement of a Mr Brown, who had been a Mirror journalist in and prior to 2006.  In 2007 he is said by the article to have provided a statement in connection with unfair dismissal proceedings, which were settled.  The statement provided information about phone hacking practices at The People.  It contained a riposte from the holding company which is recorded as saying:

“These are unsubstantiated allegations.  All our journalists work within the criminal law and the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Conduct.  We have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise.”  A similar version of the story and statement appeared on a Reuters website.

(ii)  In evidence given to the Leveson inquiry xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx denied knowledge of phone hacking amongst the showbusiness team. I have already accepted Mr Evans’ evidence that he sat across the table from xxxxxxxx doing it, so it follows that the inaccuracy of this statement has been established for the purposes of this trial.

(iii)  In evidence given to the Leveson inquiry xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx denied knowledge of phone hacking or even of gossip of it.  I have already found that xxxx was involved in it, and xxxx clearly had knowledge of it in the evidence I have referred to, and in the light of those findings this evidence was wrong.

(iv)  Ms Sly Bailey, Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, told the Leveson Inquiry that she had seen no evidence of phone hacking, but she also said that there had been no investigation to see if there was any.  She considered that there was no evidence and that in the light of that it was not healthy to “go around conducting investigations”.  Whether or not she had personal knowledge of phone hacking is not something that I can make a finding on, but Mr Brown’s statement might be thought of as being some evidence, but the main point of this for present purposes is the firm position of denial adopted by the group.

(v)  In an online report in the Independent on 29th October 2012 the group maintained this position when the new chief executive, Mr Simon Fox, is recorded as saying “We have no reason to believe that there is any substance to a [particular accusation of phone hacking]”.  However, the words are preceded by an acknowledgment that if there was any wrongdoing it would have to be investigated.  This was in the context of the first four actions having been commenced against the defendant (including Ms Gulati’s).

  1. I find that on the evidence that I heard (which I accept did not include evidence from the individuals concerned) wrong, not just disingenuous, statements were made to the Leveson inquiry by at least 2 deponents, and that the newspaper group was indeed putting up what was in effect a strong denial, from which it has had to resile.  I also find it likely that some of the witnesses were aware of Mr Brown’s allegations by the time of the Leveson inquiry if not before – it is inconceivable that in the face of that inquiry, with senior journalists and executives giving evidence, that some of them did not know about it.  However, the extent of that knowledge is not something that was investigated at this trial, and there are limits to the proper findings that can be made about it. It is sufficient for the claimants’ aggravated damages cases that the newspapers were adopting a posture of denial, and apparent denial of the existence of evidence.  That is capable of being an aggravating factor.  Whether it was in any particular case is something that I will consider later.

220:

…  The defendant also refused to engage on the question of the amount which would be appropriate for other layers of compensation which the claimants relied on.  The refusal to assist the court was, in my view, a surprising step taken for tactical reasons, which sat ill with the frequently professed anxiety of Trinity Mirror to co-operate with the claimants, get to the bottom of things and resolve matters.  It is made all the more regrettable by the fact that these cases were test cases intended to establish some sort of guidance for settling or deciding future cases, in which I would have expected full assistance on potentially relevant matters.

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Hacked Off is the campaign for a free and accountable press.  The Campaign works with victims of press abuse to achieve those aims.

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