The fallout from the Phone Hacking scandal goes on, as Sky News has this morning reported: “Heather Mills has said she and 90 other people have been awarded the highest media libel settlement in UK legal history following a claim against the News of the World. The businesswoman and campaigner settled her claim against News Group Newspapers (NGN), the ex-publisher of the newspaper, in February for an undisclosed sum”. Do go on.
“Ben Silverstone, for NGN, said: ‘The defendant is here today, through me, to offer its sincere apologies to Ms Heather Mills and Ms Fiona Mills for the distress caused to them by the invasion of their privacy by individuals working for or on behalf of the News of the World. The defendant accepts that such activity should never have taken place and that it had no right to intrude into the private lives of Ms Heather Mills or Fiona Mills in this way.’”
Also, “When asked if this was the end of her litigation against NGN, [Ms Mills] replied: ‘This is the end for now - unless anything else pops up’ … The sisters' claims were settled on the basis that NGN made no admission of liability in relation to their allegations of voicemail interception or other unlawful information gathering at The Sun”.
Those who look in regularly on Zelo Street will know that the exact amounts paid out by the Murdoch mafiosi, although significant enough when 90 claimants’ settlements are totalled to give that “highest ever” tag, cannot be disclosed as part of getting paid off.
But the Sun and Screws were not the only ones who stand accused of breaching Ms Mills’ privacy. And it is for that reason that at least one other newspaper group may be watching the action and hoping against hope that they won’t be next. Because that other newspaper group is the one which now owns the Daily and Sunday Mirror titles - and the Sunday People. Because all three are suspected of hacking Ms Mills’ phone.
We know this as former Screws and Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan let slip some time ago that he had been played a voicemail left by Ms Mills’ then husband Paul McCartney. The message could only have been obtained by someone hacking in to Ms Mills’ voicemail. Morgan declined to name the individual who had played him the voicemail when giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. But Private Eye magazine was not so restrained.
Not only did the Eye finger Neil Wallis, who likes to be nicknamed “The Wolfman”, but is more regularly known as “The Rasping Fuckwit” or “Mr Can We Say”, when that allegation was put to Wallis directly on Twitter, he did not deny it. I know this, as it was me who put the allegation to him. Ms Mills has sued the Mirror titles successfully before.
The difference between the Murdoch press and the group now running the Mirror titles is that one has plenty of cash to settle phone hacking claims and make them go away - and the other does not. But it’s hard to sympathise with those facing up to the consequences of supposedly reputable newspapers being turned into borderline criminal enterprises.
I said that Phone Hacking was a big deal when Nick Davies first broke the story in 2009. Many who should have known better claimed otherwise. Well, it’s still a big deal, and sadly, our free and fearless press hasn’t yet learned its lessons. I’ll just leave that one there.
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