Phone hacking was so rife at the Daily Mirror that it was described as having been on an “industrial scale” by lawyers debating how much compensation victims should get. Around a hundred celebrities a day were targeted, in an operation that made the News of The World look like a “small cottage industry” acccording to The Times.
Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) has set aside £12m to compensate its victims but is still arguing that its activities caused little harm to the victims. However, David Sherborne, counsel for eight claimants seeking damages, told the High Court that the company had “plundered” unsuspecting celebrities for information.
The level of compensation set in this case is likely to have a significant impact on how much MGN has to pay out to the hundreds likely to claim against them. MGN has already apologised for its “unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into people’s private lives”.
Sherborne told the court it was unclear how or when phone hacking had started at the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People. He claimed by the late 1990s the practice was commonplace at all three publications, and it only stopped in 2009.
He told the court: “It is a reasonable inference that phone hacking was rife at all three of MGN’s national titles at or around the same time, that is by mid-1999 at the latest.” Sherborne also alleged senior executives at the company had misled the Leveson Enquiry into phone hacking by employing “deliberately crafted and disingenuous statements”.
He is acting for Alan Yentob, Paul Gascoigne, the actress Sadie Frost, the soap stars Lucy Taggart, Shane Richie and Shobna Gulati, the flight attendant Lauren Alcorn and the TV producer Robert Ashworth. They all look likely to secure big pay-offs, as MGN has already admitted their phones were hacked.
The court was told that one journalist alone hacked a hundred celebrities a day over an 18 month period and that thousands of people were routinely hacked. But Matthew Nicklin QC for MGN claimed little real harm had been done by the companies activities.