Read coverage of the various hacking trials (News of the World in 2013/14 and now Mirror Group Newspapers) and you could be forgiven for thinking phone hacking was all about celebrities. Celebrities attract attention, attract news interest, and sell papers. This is perhaps why many of the news reports of phone hacking have concentrated on celebrities and are illustrated with photographs of celebrities.
Yet, if you actually sit down and add up the numbers, it becomes clear that though many celebrities were targets of the News of the World they were not the main victims of phone hacking. Over two thirds of the News of the World phone hacking victims that we know about were not public figures. They were beauticians, receptionists, lawyers, estate agents, nannies, policemen, journalists, priests, sports agents and hairdressers.
Almost one in ten of those targeted by the paper’s hackers were people coping with dreadful tragedies, for example the families of murder victims. A striking number of targets were people in positions important to national security. Four consecutive Home Secretaries from 1997 to 2007 are reported to have been hacked, as well as many senior officers from the Metropolitan police (including Sir Ian Blair, John Yates, Mike Fuller, Andy Hayman, Brian Paddick and Ali Dizaei).
And it turns out that the News of the World was seven times more likely to hack a Labour politician than a Conservative one.
But what emerges most clearly is that the great majority of those who were hacked were people most of us had never heard of. Many were connected to public figures, but often simply by being related to them, or working with them, or being their friends. You might be hacked because you were, for example, the partner or ex-partner of a public figure, or a work colleague or a friend or acquaintance or a parent or step-parent.
The partners of Ulrika Johnson, Davina McCall, John Thompson, Stephen Byers, Jeffrey Archer, Denis MacShane, and Kenneth Cameron were targeted. So too were the ex-partners of Kate Moss, Kerry Katona, Robbie Williams, Steve Coogan, Charlotte Church, Bobby Davro, Colin Montgomerie, and Paul Gascoigne.
The parents of famous people were hacked, including Kerry Katona’s mother, Charlotte Church’s mother (and the mother of Charlotte Church’s ex-boyfriend), Lacey Turner’s mother and David Beckham’s father. The siblings of famous people were targeted, including Heather Mills’ sister and Kate Moss’ brother.
In some cases almost anyone with a connection to the subject of interest was targeted. Therefore in the case of Ryan Wilson, who was seriously injured in a drug trial that went wrong, his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend’s mother, her father and her brother were all targeted by the News of the World.
Studying the list of known victims one can see how almost anyone within the circle of interest of the newspaper was a potential target. Eimear Cook, who separated from the golfer Colin Montgomerie in 2004, discovered the number of Mrs Margaret Atkinson listed in the papers of phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire as a person of interest. Mrs Atkinson was a friend of Cook’s mother who looked after her mother when she was ill.
Yet the context also shows that phone hacking was just one of a toolbox of methods the News of the World used to find out personal information about its targets. Others included blagging, pinging, paying informants and tailing. Through a combination of these they could find out everything from medical history through to past relationships, to driving records and personal diaries.
Up till now, no-one has systematically tried to analyse who was hacked and the context of that hacking. A new report – ‘Who was hacked? An investigation into phone hacking and its victims’ – gathers together all the victims of News of the World phone hacking that we know about from the various court cases, Leveson Inquiry, news reports and elsewhere, and analyses who was hacked and the context of the hacking.
This includes a quantitative analysis of 591 people who successfully settled claims with News UK, and a qualitative analysis of the those who were named as victims of hacking during the recent phone hacking trial, and those who have been reported as hacking targets in the press and in books such as Nick Davies’ Hack Attack.
The numbers are important because they undermine the myth that phone hacking was all about celebrities. They also add weight to Glenn Mulcaire’s comment that the information gained from phone hacking was considered an asset which News of the World could use in stories, trade for other information, or keep for future use: “I would produce the currency”, Mulcaire told the journalist and author James Hanning, “which bosses could barter” (The News Machine).
Yet the numbers in themselves do not convey the impact on these individuals’ lives, and on the lives of those close to them. Only the personal stories themselves can do that. Charlotte Church described how ”The havoc that the press have created within my family has been devastating”. Baroness Hollins, whose family was targeted following the stabbing of her daughter while she was pushing her son’s pram, explained the impact it had on their trust of those around them: ”Sadly we began to distrust people, and didn’t feel we could share information fully, even with close friends and family, because we did not know how the press were getting hold of a constant trickle of information”.
In September Mirror Group Newspapers admitted liability for hacking phones, having previously denied it for more than seven years. Opening the case on behalf of claimants at the High Court David Sherborne said that ‘It is a reasonable inference that phone hacking was rife at all three of MGN’s national titles’ – the Sunday Mirror, the People and the Daily Mirror. The case is ongoing and the number of people making claims against the paper continues to rise.
You can read more here.
The full report is available to download from www.mediastandardstrust.org
The pdf can be found here