- TROUBLE for The Sun as tabloid faces first ‘solo’ phone hacking claims
- ACTOR Sienna Miller and politician Simon Hughes have filed lawsuits
- THE SUN pleads innocence – says only sister title News Of The World hacked, but;
- TOP LAWYER says Sun ‘mired’ in ‘lawbreaking’ and ‘human rights’ abuses
By Dan Evans & Graham Johnson
THE Sun tabloid is being named as the sole culprit in phone hacking lawsuits for the first time in a dramatic new development for Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper business, Byline Investigates can report.
Both the actor Sienna Miller, 37, and former senior Liberal Democrat MP Sir Simon Hughes, 68, have filed actions alleging breach of privacy against Britain’s biggest-selling paper – having in the past separately sued its defunct sister title the News of the World for the same thing.
Of the legal milestone, privacy lawyer Jonathan Coad said: “News UK has clearly tried to distinguish between the utterly discredited ethics of the News of the World and those of its sister title The Sun.
“Rupert Murdoch will have hoped that sacrificing the News of the World would permit The Sun to survive. This latest development suggests that this policy will fail.”
It marks a new front in the long-running phone hacking saga for publishers News UK, whose subsidiary News Group Newspapers Ltd is cited in the September 25 court filings.
The company denies – or refuses to admit – any wrongdoing ever at The Sun, insisting illegal newsgathering was confined strictly to its defunct sister title the News of the World.
Mr Coad, a consultant solicitor at Keystone Law, added: “News UK, as it now calls itself, has adopted a ‘deny everything until it can be proved against us’ policy from the outset, when we were told that phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter.
“That was a lie and that phone hacking on an industrial scale and serial illegality was rife at the News of the World.
“Nobody who is familiar with the modus operandi of its parent, which it shares with The Sun, has any doubt that The Sun is also mired in both serial human rights breaches and law breaking.
“These claims are therefore likely to force News UK into admitting that The Sun behaved no better that its Sunday sister title in riding a coach and horses through the law to ensure that it remained powerful and profitable.”
In May, 2011, Miss Miller became the first person to successfully sue the News of the World after the tabloid made admissions about the industrial scale use of hacking in its newsgathering, paying her £100,000 compensation, plus legal costs.
The paper also accepted unconditional liability and issued an apology for targeting the star, who is being tipped for an Oscar for her lead performance in 2019 movie American Woman.
In November, 2011, Miss Miller described to the first part of the Leveson Inquiry into Press abuse how hacking left her paranoid and questioning her trust in those closest to her.
In one instance, she told how she had gathered people in a room to question them after a story emerged based on something only four people knew about.
She said: “I accused someone in that room of selling a story.”
Ms Miller told the inquiry that she had felt terrible when she realised no-one had betrayed her.
Of the hacking, she said: “Nobody could understand how this information was coming out. It was impossible to lead any kind of normal life at that time and that was very difficult for a young girl.”
Sir Simon accepted damages of £45,000 plus his legal costs in February 2012 to settle his dispute with the News of the World, after evidence that this phone was targeted emerged in a raid by the Metropolitan Police on the home of the paper’s in-house hacker, Glenn Mulcaire.
He said at the time: “The evidence in my case clearly demonstrates that the practice of hacking was widespread… it was criminal behaviour on an industrial scale.”
He added: “All those who allowed a large company to behave in this way must be held to account.”
It is believed Sir Simon, in his new case, will accuse The Sun of obtaining his personal phone records, in a bid to – wrongly – ‘out’ the then Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems as gay, just as he was making a bid for the leadership of the party in 2006.
The veteran politician already told Lord Justice Leveson, in 2012, that: “(The Sun) had come by information which was records of telephone calls made by me.”
Further details of the alleged privacy breach emerged in October 2017, during the preamble to a trial against NGN (ultimately aborted when the company paid off all its accusers out of court), as reported at the time by Byline Investigates.
The court heard that Rupert Murdoch’s top UK political journalist Trevor Kavanagh outed the Lib Dem as gay by using phone billing data illegally bought from Britain’s biggest data theft operation, a firm of private investigators called Express Locate International (ELI).
It has not been determined whether Kavanagh (pictured above), who served on the industry-funded Press self-regulator IPSO for two years until January 2018, knew his story tip was derived from the allegedly unlawful activities of ELI.
But barrister David Sherborne, acting for alleged victims of The Sun’s alleged criminality, said in documents deployed at the 2017 high court hearing: “(Kavanagh)… had evidence about his private sex life, and offering him an opportunity to co-operate in a story about his sexuality, under threat of the newspaper ‘outing’ him through the publication of this highly private information.”
Mr Sherborne added: “An ELI invoice records that ‘extensive urgent inquiries’ were carried out in relation to Mr Hughes on 25 January 2006.”
The information was allegedly sent first to News Desk Executive James Clothier, who in turn was said to have informed his line manager, Head of News Chris Pharo.
Some of the data was private and potentially embarrassing for Mr Hughes, the court heard.
This data eventually found its way to Trevor Kavanagh who used it as leverage to get Mr Hughes to ‘confess’ to being bisexual, a fact which may have weakened his bid for the Lib Dem leadership.
Mr Sherborne added: “On the following morning, 25 January 2006, Chris Pharo, head of the News Department at The Sun, emailed this confidential call data to the Managing Editor Graham Dudman.
“Later that day Political Editor Trevor Kavanagh confronted Mr Hughes with the call data, stating that The Sun had evidence about his private sex life, and offering him an opportunity to co-operate in a story about his sexuality, under threat of the newspaper ‘outing’ him through the publication of this highly private information.”
Lawyers for News Group Newspapers are denying that any illegal activity took place.