Those in Mr Justice Vos’ ever lively Court 57 witnessed another bombshell today. The News of the World has capitulated entirely in the face of Sienna Miller’s claim. It was this claim that heralded the brave new world of phone-hacking litigation and sparked the arrest of Ian Edmondson by the army of policeman deployed in operation Weeting. It is not surprising that the News of the World should choose to settle this paradigm case, but the extent of their open admissions is truly astonishing.
It is worth reminding ourselves of what Ms Miller sought by her claim. Naturally she asked the Court for an injunction preventing further hacking. The News of the World were unlikely to resist such an injunction, what with Glenn Mulcaire off the payroll and the eagle eye of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers on its current operations. The second head of claim was damages for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and harassment. A figure of £100,000 for damages is unsurprising given the current precedents for privacy awards. It will be interesting to see whether future tussles over damages in phone hacking cases can move this figure on, with exemplary damages yet to be fully explored. Future claimants will not see this figure as a ceiling. Then there was a claim for “delivery-up”. Part of today’s judgment will see her receive full disclosure by the News of the World of the thousands of documents they hold associated with the hacking of her voicemail. One can only assume that she can return to Court if those documents are either inadequate or if they disclose information that would render her entitled to additional remedies. The final substantive remedy she has obtained is perhaps the most compelling: a declaration from the News of the World as to the unlawfulness of their scheme and its use in the production of a barrage of articles on Miller’s private life.
It really is a mark of how far this issue has moved on that the News of the World are no longer prepared to dispute the “scheme” described in detail in this claim. The newspaper and Mr Mulcaire set out to target “political, royal and showbiz/entertainment” personalities by way of hacking. Daily transcripts would be delivered to the newspaper derived from Mulcaire’s nefarious techniques; obtaining direct dial numbers and re-setting pin numbers of its targets’ mobile phones. The particulars of claim also rely on the famous “for Neville” email that arose in the Gordon Taylor case and was subsequently examined at length in the Department of Culture Media and Sport Select Committee hearings. This was referred to as “no evidence” when News Group’s in-house lawyer and editor were asked about it in Parliament and it didn’t even arouse the suspicions of the police in 2006. It is now effectively admitted.
With the £100,000 in damages and costs of at least double this figure Miller and her team have achieved everything they could possibly have hoped for at the outset of this action and it will be interesting to see how her example is utilised by the claimants that follow in her wake. One such claimant is Miller’s own step-mother Kelly Hoppen who claims that her phone was hacked first by Mulcaire then again in 2009 by News of the World journalist Dan Evans. This claim also took a leap forward yesterday with the explosive evidence that Dan Evans’ computer contained the same private mobile numbers as those found in Mulcaire’s papers. The full impact of this revelation has yet to be fully played-out but the suggestion is that this journalist made ongoing use of Mulcaire’s information when Mulcaire was removed from the picture by way of his conviction and prison sentence in 2007.
Sienna Miller may have been removed as the glowing poster-girl of the gang of lead hacking claimants following today’s developments but others are ready to step into her shoes. With claims like Hoppen’s in the wings, this may not be good news for News Group.
Dominic Crossley is a partner at Collyer Bristow LLP.