On the face of it, yesterday’s Mail On Sunday story, telling readers that Sarah Ferguson was suing the Murdoch mafiosi for a whopping £45 million - an amount which had increased significantly of late - was an open and shut case of blatant and shameless greed. Fergie was expecting poor old Rupe to bankroll her lifestyle? Someone with her propensity to blow money at an eye-watering rate? Come off it, eh?
The problem for the press establishment, though, is that it’s not quite that simple, and it seems Ms Ferguson and her legal team knows this. Someone in that team has been doing their homework on those named in proceedings. The MoS does not so much as hint at this - but by showing us the names in the frame, it has let the cat out of the bag.
“Fergie demands £40MILLION from Rupert Murdoch for lost wages after Fake Sheikh sting - including missed £5m for personal appearances, £22m for her TV animation shows and £9m on a health products deal … Duchess of York's claim over cash-for-access sting has doubled to £40m … Claim against Rupert Murdoch says the 2010 sting destroyed her reputation … During sting she offered to introduce reporter to Prince Andrew for £500k” gasps the headline. The line taken is, predictably, sympathetic to Murdoch.
Oh look, another Red Top ...
Readers are therefore told “in a vigorous counterattack, lawyers for Mr Murdoch’s publishing company accused her of ‘dishonesty’ and attempted fraud, describing her case as ‘defective and embarrassing’”, which is followed up with “She wants Rupert Murdoch to stump up for all this”. And there are more incriminating details.
“Better known for spending rather than making money, the Duchess has a chequered financial history. At one point, she owed Coutts bank almost £5 million and, later, her American ‘lifestyle and wellness’ company, Hartmoor, collapsed with debts of more than £600,000 … In April 2010, a month before the News Of The World story, the Duchess reportedly faced financial ruin after being taken to the High Court by a leading legal firm for debts of more than £200,000”. But then we get to her claim.
... and another
This shows the “Claimant” as Sarah Ferguson, with the “Defendants” Mazher Mahmood, News Group Newspapers Limited, Colin Myler and Tom Crone. The MoS does not dwell on this, other that to refer to Maz’ sting on Ms Ferguson. But those three names spell trouble for the Murdochs. When you add in the almost desperate attempts to keep claims for hacking and blagging out of court, the dilemma becomes all too clear.
Apart from the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks in the hacking trial, only one other individual was given the top level of legal firepower dedicated to their defence by the Murdoch mafiosi. That individual was Mazher Mahmood, although this did not prevent him from getting guilty over lying to the judge in the Tulisa Contostavlos case.
Mazher Mahmood - "a criminal with an NUJ card"
Several of those who got stung by Mahmood, and received criminal records as a result, are now seeking to have their convictions declared unsafe. Maz’ whole back catalogue could be raked over if Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry goes ahead - one reason the press doesn’t want it to happen. Too much light shone on the Fake Sheikh’s sting of Sarah Ferguson is just what the Murdochs don’t want, and don’t need.
Tom Crone, former Murdoch lawyer
Then there is Tom Crone, accused of a series of dirty tricks and probably lucky not to be censured by the Bar Standards Board recently. The former Murdoch lawyer - he racked up 25 years’ service - was also accused of putting a private investigator on the tail of fellow lawyer Mark Lewis in an attempt to dig dirt. Lewis was “lined up for punishment” after he “crossed” Rupert Murdoch. The mafiosi won’t want him to face too much scrutiny.
And finally we come to Colin Myler, whose revelation after the hacking trials showed that he was certain both Ms Brooks and Neil Wallis, another who claimed not to have known hacking was going on at the late and not at all lamented Screws, knew that hacking really was going on - because he had told them both.
Colin Myler, last editor of the Screws
Add to that the extreme reticence of the Murdochs to allow all those recent hacking claims to get to court, and you see the totality of the dilemma facing them over Sarah Ferguson’s claim. That is most likely why the numbers claimed are so eye-popping, and also why the MoS would not even think about mentioning it.
Do the Murdoch mafiosi dare try and bluff their way out of this one - with the knowledge that all manner of dirty laundry would turn up in court, should the action get there - or do they try and quietly pay her off? How many more millions will it take to buy Ms Ferguson’s silence? You thought it was an open and shut case of a greedy ex-Royal? Think again.