The first week of the Mirror Damages Trial has concluded. On Day 5, Counsel for the Claimants finished his opening speech, the Defendant’s Counsel made a short opening and the Court heard evidence from BBC creative director, Alan Yentob.
In continuing his opening, Mr Sherborne further addressed the Court about the case of Robert Ashworth. He told the judge that Mr Ashworth believe that MGN journalists found messages that were exchanged between him and his solicitors. These communications were said to concern discussions about Mr Ashworth’s possible divorce from actress Tracey Shaw.
The stories about the divorce were then followed up by other MGN titles. Mr Sherborne told the Court
“the Sunday Mirror has revealed the fact that Robert is looking for a divorce. His wife reads this for the first time in the papers because they have hacked into his phone, and then they hack into her phone and get her reaction, and then the daily newspaper the next day publishes that”.
The articles admitted to have been obtained by phone hacking contained information about Ms Shaw’s treatment and rehabilitation. In total there were 18 admitted articles from phone hacking concerning Mr Ashworth and Ms Shaw, covering the period 2001 to 2004.
The Judge was also taken to substantial numbers of articles published by MGN newspapers relating to the other claimants which were admitted to be the product of phone hacking.
The Defendant’s Counsel, Matthew Nicklin QC, made a short opening speech. He accepted at the outset that voicemail interception and data blagging was “unlawful, unacceptable and wrong”. He referred to the prominent public apologies made by all three newspapers. He said
“We intend to pay full, fair and proper compensation to the claimants. The only reason that we are on the opposite side of court to them in this trial is that we are arguing over the correct amount of compensation payable in these kinds of cases. We need the court to assess what a fair amount of compensation should be in each case”
He told that Court that the unlawful activities which had taken place “have long been banished from Trinity Mirror’s business” but that the company took responsibility for historic wrongdoing. The chairman and chief executive had, he said, written individual letters of apology and explanation to each of the claimants.
The phone hacking was, he said
“carried out by a trusted inner circle and the whole exercise was shrouded in secrecy”
There was no evidence that the board of Trinity Mirror was aware that hacking was going on at the time of the Leveson inquiry that it was engaged in any kind of cover up.
The Court then heard evidence from Alan Yentob. He told the court that he was shocked by the entire show business desk at three newspaper listening to his conversations. He described this as
“a horrific invasion of my personal/professional life often based on trust, particularly with all the people I’ve worked with professionally over very many years.
Mr Yentob was subject to extensive cross-examination by Counsel for the Defendant. He put to Mr Yentob the fact that he had not complained about a single article. Mr Yentob replied that
“The issue here is the serial infiltration of my voicemails over a period of time. And also we’re only talking here about landlines. And the fact that my life has been spied on and probed on and collectively by a group of people. That is the point I make. I have no problem with exclusives or anything else, or any legitimate journalistic activity”.
Mr Yentob told the Court that the evidence of voicemail interception
“has had a considerable effect on me and my family in knowing this, and it’s got worse in the last few weeks as I’ve learned the breadth of it”.
The evidence of Mr Yentob was concluded on Friday afternoon. The next witnesses will be Shobna Gulati, Steve McFadden, Lauren Alcorn, Sadie Frost, Ben Jackson, Shane Roche and James Hipwell.
In addition to Mr Yentob there are seven other representative claimants, soap stars Shane Roche, Shobna Gulati and Lucy Benjamin, TV producer Robert Ashworth, actress Sadie Frost, former footballer Paul Gascoigne and flight attendant Lauren Alcorn.