Our free and fearless press likes to point out those who take them to court and win significant amounts of damages, along with their legal costs - then claim that what was published about them didn’t really hurt them, it was a good story really, and only a bit of good clean journalistic fun. Deeply unpleasant former Sun editor Kelvin McFilth’s favourite is the sum extracted from his paper by Elton John.
Danielle Hindley ((c) Tim Fenton, so there)
But not all victims of press misbehaviour are well-known; many cannot afford to take the press to court, and well they know it. The press sits as its own judge and jury, deciding who it’s going to shit on, and sneering at their targets to come and sue them if they think they’re hard enough. And when their targets do come after them, they just pile on the agony, stringing any action out, just to make it that bit more expensive and unaffordable.
The damage done to those targets - well, the press doesn’t care about that. And that is where Danielle Hindley comes in. She is a small business owner who lives in a former mining village not far from Leeds, and appeared on the Zelo Street radar at the end of 2017 at the prompting of a regular source of mine.
Ms Hindley had had an unwelcome visitor: a Mail on Sunday hack called Charlotte Wace who arrived at her house posing as a potential client. Ms Wace was carrying a hidden camera. At first it was just another case of press harassment, but then the MoS published. Their story claimed Ms Hindley was a “rogue beautician”, a “cosmetic cowboy”. It was the kind of story that could bust her business, and it very nearly did.
She had done nothing wrong. She had told the MoS they were wrong; they went ahead and published anyway. A subsequent complaint to IPSO was partially upheld; in the meantime, her neighbours were seeing what was in the paper and decided it must be true. Her little boy was horribly bullied at school. She was put in touch with campaigning group Hacked Off, and lawyer Jonathan Coad took up the case on her behalf.
Hacked Off have worked to publicise and help countless victims of press abuse; I have been privileged to meet some of them. They are, in the main, not household names, not wealthy, not with their own personal lawyer. They are just ordinary people, cast like so many rabbits in the headlights of the advancing press juggernaut.
A claim was submitted against the MoS in November 2018. No offer of settlement was forthcoming, and so in April 2019, legal proceedings were begun. Two months later, a year and a half after they had published an article about her that was not true, and which they knew not to be true, the paper made an offer of amends to Ms Hindley, which she then accepted. They would pay damages, plus her costs.
And so we arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand today; a statement would be read out in open court on Ms Hindley’s behalf. Along with her supporters, and yes, I am proud and humbled to be one of them, she entered Court 37 to see her action against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail on Sunday, brought to its conclusion.
The presiding judge, fittingly, was Mr Justice Jay. As plain Robert Jay, he had been the lead counsel to the Leveson Inquiry. He had lightly grilled all the proprietors, editors, hacks, hangers-on, and yes, he had heard the stories of the victims.
As Ms Hindley’s statement was read out by her barrister, Mr Justice Jay sat and listened as the Mail on Sunday’s disgraceful behaviour was set out. He said nothing; he did not need to. His world-weary expression said it for him; he had been here before.
It was before his prompting that so many accounts of press abuse were relayed to the outside world: the better-known victims of phone hacking, like Sienna Miller and Heather Mills; former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, whose life was gratuitously trashed by the late and not at all lamented Screws; and Hugh Grant memorably accusing the Daily Mail, under the editorship of the legendarily foul-mouthed Paul Dacre, of hacking him.
It was also before Robert Jay that the ordinary people gave their testimony. Those like the McCanns, serially trashed by every red-top and mid-market tabloid; and Christopher Jefferies, denounced as a weirdo, and indeed a murderer, before the real killer of Joanna Yeates was arrested and the press realised they did not have a leg to stand on.
Mr Justice Jay had seen and heard it all. He had been a part of that process that might have stopped it all happening again, but the Leveson recommendations were largely ignored, as the Tory Party did the ultimate deal with the press devil and the likes of John Whittingdale made sure the Fourth Estate would be able to carry on as before.
Mr Justice Jay had tried. He’d done his best. Now, he looked at Danielle Hindley, sitting nervously before him, and knew it had happened again. Another ordinary person, a victim of a rotten press establishment that does not care who it abuses, or about the consequences of their actions, another statistic in the record of mere collateral damage. All he could do was to hear the statement read out on her behalf, and initial the record.
With that, the action was concluded. But where was the Mail on Sunday? Ah well. Their concern for the victims of their shoddy journalism was such that they did not even bother to turn up. A reporter from the Press Association attended; that was very much that.
After all, the press wouldn’t want their readers to know about Danielle Hindley. So they will say and do as little as possible to tell them about her story. Here on Zelo Street, though, there is no such reticence. Nor is there at Byline Media, where Professor Brian Cathcart has given his account of the whole sorry story. So now you know.
Our free and fearless press has ventured beyond the pale. But you knew that anyway.APPEAL The Legalballs Fund: I made a mistake. Now I need to raise £16,500 to cover a legal bill. You can chip in to help me HERE - all help is gratefully received. Thanks for reading this far!