MORE than £1 million in damages has been awarded to celebrities, including former Rangers footballer Paul Gascoigne and actress Sadie Frost, over phone hacking by Mirror Group Newspapers.
The ex-England international was awarded £188,250 in damages at the High Court and actress Frost received £260,250.
Lawyers for phone-hacking victims claimed today’s payouts, totalling around £1.2 million, were “unparalleled”.
Eight damages awards were announced at London’s High Court today after a three-week hearing in March to determine the extent of the wrongdoing at the group and what level of compensation was appropriate.
Mr Justice Mann also awarded £85,000 to TV executive Alan Yentob, £117,500 and £157,250 respectively to actresses Shobna Gulati and Lucy Taggart, and £155,000 to soap star Shane Richie.
TV producer Robert Ashworth, who was married to actress Tracy Shaw, received £201,250, and flight attendant Lauren Alcorn, who had a relationship with soccer star Rio Ferdinand, was awarded £72,500.
The judge said the victims had all suffered a “serious infringement of privacy” and the scale of hacking was “very substantial indeed”.
The judge’s ruling will provide a framework for resolving similar civil actions in the pipeline.
Daniel Taylor, of Taylor Hampton, solicitors who represented three of the eight victims, said: “Today’s judgment represents a milestone in the development of privacy law in the UK and the awarding of six-figure damages is truly historic and unparalleled, on a scale much greater than has ever been awarded previously.”
Christopher Hutchings, solicitor for Ms Alcorn, said: “Today’s judgment should encourage ordinary people who have found themselves to be victims of phone hacking to take steps to bring the offending parts of the media to account.”
He said: “This case is significant because it is the first ever civil claim for phone hacking that has gone all the way to court.
“All other civil cases to date have settled.
“So this is the first time the High Court has had the opportunity fully to consider the issues.”.
He said: “The array of celebrities in this case is dazzling - Sadie Frost, Paul Gascoigne, Shane Richie, Alan Yentob among others.
“But arguably far more significant is what the court has to say about the plight of the one non-celebrity claimant.
“The judgment makes it clear that ordinary people who do not choose to live their lives in the full glare of the media are to be given generous compensation by law if their privacy is invaded for the benefit of a salacious story.”
The individuals affected
Sadie Frost - £260,250
She said that for many years she was in a “living hell” because of the stories which appeared about her and there was “no safe place” in her life.
“I was going through what people go through every day - breakdown of a family, divorce.
“I had a baby, I was breastfeeding, and a baby nearly two.
“I was not particularly well at the time.
“I was someone trying to put my life back together and every day they were trying to paint a more and more negative picture of me and my family.”
She said the articles published about her covered all aspects of her life, including her friendships, work and health, and it felt awful not to be able to trust her family and have others - like friend Kate Moss or ex-husband Jude Law - question whether they could trust her.
“Every time I turned to someone to confide in them, it ended up in the newspapers, which added to my distress and trauma.”
It felt like she and those closest to her were “being monitored and hunted down by a sort of secret police”.
The award covered £182,750 for published articles, £30,000 for distress, £37,500 for general hacking, £10,000 for private investigator activity.
Robert Ashworth - £201,250
He said that the articles fed on his engagement to Tracy Shaw, their marriage, separation, attempt at reconciliation and divorce, and Ms Shaw’s battle with alcohol.
Mr Ashworth said that when he received a letter of apology from Trinity Mirror before the start of the trial, he felt “sick”.
“They think that an A4 piece of paper and saying sorry for the damage they created ... not only did I lose my marriage, I lost my career.
“I couldn’t even get work in Manchester.
“I had to come down to London.
“If they think that’s enough ...
“At Christmas 2003, I nearly took my life because I was in such a dark place.”
His award included £142,750 awarded for published articles, £5,000 for private investigator activity, £30,000 for general hacking, £20,000 for general distress and £3,500 aggravated damages.
Paul Gascoigne - £188,250
Gascoigne told the High Court that phone-hacking was linked to his alcoholism.
“I couldn’t speak to anybody, I was scared to speak to anybody ... my parents, my family and kids, it was just horrendous.
“And people can’t understand why I became an alcoholic.”
He added: “I would like to trade my mobile phone in for a coffin because these guys have ruined my life. I have no life.”
He said that the period between 2000 and 2006 was very difficult, mentally and physically, and he wrongly accused people close to him, such as his stepdaughter Bianca, of going to the newspapers.
He believed that information about his relationship with his ex-wife Sheryl, in particular his calls to her, including his threats of suicide, came about through voicemail interception.
He became paranoid and obsessed and purchased £80,000 counter surveillance equipment
Gascoigne’s award included £78,250 for published articles, £30,000 global figure for articles not awarded separately, £10,000 private investigator activity, £20,000 for distress and £50,000 for general hacking.
Lucy Taggart - £157,250
Ms Taggart said that with every article she felt like she was beng “punched and battered and bruised.
She said: “It felt I was in a boxing ring without any gloves.”
She was embarrassed to face her bosses at work as she felt she was being portrayed as “either a wild party animal or an emotionally unstable girl” and her relationships with those closest to her became messy and complicated.
She believed that Mirror Group had “slaughtered” her over the seven years she was targeted and the extent of the intrusion was “nothing short of psychological abuse”.
Her EastEnder’s colleague, Steve McFadden, said he believed the articles “destroyed” Ms Taggart’s career.
He said they had hoped to marry, and he got “very close” to proposing, “but the biggest factor that stopped me was thinking that Lucy had a big mouth and was giving out information”.
Her award included £99,250 for published articles, £40,000 for general hacking, £15,000 for distress and £3,000 for private investigator activity.
Shane Richie - £155,000
He said that he and co-star Jessie Wallace did not speak for five years because of the atmosphere of distrust caused by phone-hacking.
He had asked his wife if her mother had been talking to the press, which led to a falling-out with his mother-in-law for a while, and he even suspected his own mother and his long-standing manager.
At one point he got someone in to do a sweep for bugs at his home as he was so paranoid about personal and financial information appearing in the Mirror titles.
It sickened him ‘’to the core’’ that journalists had the gall to listen to intimate voicemails left for him by his wife and children.
The award to Richie included £85,000 for published articles, £25,000 for distress, £40,000 for hacking generally and £5,000 for private investigator activity.
Shobna Gulati - £117,500
Ms Gulati said that phone-hacking led to her son being bullied at school and running away from home, and caused a relationship to fail.
She continued to be caused “all sorts of pain and trauma” because she was unsure how much of her personal life was listened to “by faceless, nameless folk”.
She was relieved when she found out about the hacking as she felt she was going “barking mad” and had mistrusted everyone.
The award included £75,500 for published articles, £15,000 for distress, £22,000 for general hacking and 5,000 for private investigator activities.
Alan Yentob - £85,000
Mr Yentob said he felt “invaded and sickened” by the phone-hacking, which did not result in any articles being published.
“I am now acutely aware that I, along with my family, friends and associates, have been violated on a truly massive scale.
“I can only describe the feeling as a violation; it did not happen just once.”
Between 1999 and 2008, he would have been in regular contact with, among others, Lady Ruth Rogers and her architect husband Richard, the then BBC director-general Greg Dyke, actors Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, author Salman Rushdie, Alastair Campbell at Downing Street, entertainers Harry Enfield, Jonathan Ross, Steve Coogan, Angus Deayton and Caroline Aherne and musician Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.
He said MGN suspected he was having an affair with Lady Rogers, although at some point it realised that was not correct and so could not publish the story.
“That it was nonsense is true,” he said.
“But this in no way excuses the intrusion into our privacy.
“We never had an affair, but it does not mean that it would not have had devastating effects had the story been published.”
His award was one overall sum that took into account the extent and nature of the privacy invasion from hacking, activities of the private investigators and its effect.
Yentob, who was hacked twice a day for seven years, had claimed £125,000 in damages and was originally offered £10,000.
Lauren Alcorn - £72,500
Ms Alcorn sobbed as she gave evidence about how the hacking left her feeling ‘’hounded’’.
The flight attendant with Virgin Atlantic said that she was ‘’completely shocked and disgusted’’ by the activity.
‘’I think it’s quite shocking really to see the extent of it,” she said.
“I’m a very private person and I never never wanted to be in the public eye.
“Even walking into court today is my worst nightmare.’’
Ms Alcorn was awarded £50,000 for the articles published, an additional £17,500 for hacking generally and another £10,000 for the general upset it caused her and her relationship.