- NEWSPAPER giant Mirror Group (MGN) targeted so-called ‘super-injunction’ judges with private investigators, court documents allege
- PAYMENT revealed “egregious” snooping as lawyers for 68 alleged victims sue MGN for unlawful news-gathering
- MIRROR Group has yet to respond to the “very serious” allegations, which will be aired in full at a trial next January
- LAWYERS say it shows the breadth of MGN’s allegedly illegal activities went far beyond celebrities, as;
- LEADING media law professor questions the publicly-owned company’s “seriously unethical” behaviour
MIRROR Group Newspapers put private investigators (PIs) on senior High Court media law judges responsible for granting ‘super-injunctions’, it has been claimed in the phone hacking case managed by… one of Britain’s most senior High Court media judges.
The UK’s biggest newspaper publisher – owners of The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People – is said to have targeted the “senior members of the judiciary” until “at least” mid-2011 – around when the Government ordered the Leveson Public Inquiry into press ethics and conduct.
The extraordinary claims emerged in sworn evidence from James Heath, the Lead Solicitor for 68 claimants currently suing MGN for allegedly hacking their phones and stealing private information including medical and financial records for tabloid stories.
MGN has yet to plead a response to the “very serious” allegations – likely to be aired in full in a showpiece trial set for January 2021 – which the Claimants say show the company’s journalists carried out illegal data checks on people from all walks of life over a 12-year period.
Mr Heath wrote: “Contrary to the popular impression that MGN’s newspapers ‘only’ targeted celebrities with its unlawful activities, MGN pursued anyone and everyone to suit its agenda in the most egregious way, including senior members of the judiciary, such as High Court judges, particularly those who granted anonymity injunctions in privacy proceedings – with such targeting continuing to be carried out at least as late as the middle of 2011.”
The document, deployed on Monday during a virtual High Court hearing in front of Mr Justice Mann, does not name the judges involved, but does say some were senior enough to be sitting at the Court of Appeal, while others were involved in “high-profile privacy injunction proceedings.”
Who was snooped? Two candidates:
AT THE the time Mr Heath’s witness statement says MGN – now known as Reach plc – was instructing PIs to target the unnamed members of the judiciary, potentially unlawfully, Britain’s most senior media judges were Mr Justice Tugendhat, and Mr Justice Eady.
These two High Court judges, who sat in the Queen’s Bench Division, were responsible for deciding applications for anonymised injunctions sought by high profile people (such as footballers and business men) to prevent tabloid newspapers running “kiss and tell” and other exposés of their private lives.
The press wrongly labelled these judgments as “super-injunctions”, which actually refers to very rare cases where there is no published judgment.
In almost all the high-profile cases there was a published judgment, where the applicant and their family were anonymised so as not to defeat the purpose of the injunction.
Justice Tugendhat presided over a series of high-profile privacy cases, including the overturning in 2010 of an injunction preventing the media from revealing allegations (later admitted to be false by some of the newspapers) that the footballer John Terry had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-partner of Chelsea teammate, Wayne Bridge.
He also partially lifted a 2011 gagging order brought by the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, ‘Sir’ Fred Goodwin, shortly after details of his alleged extra-marital affair were made public in the House of Lords.
Mr Justice Eady was until October 2010, the country’s senior privacy and media judge and was a target of great frustration for the British tabloid press after a series of his rulings prioritised the UK Human Rights Act’s protections for people’s private lives over newspapers’ rights to write about them.
So prominent were his rulings, that in July 2011 – as Leveson was being launched – he featured at number 17 in MediaGuardian’s 100 most powerful people in media. His rulings, it said, had “shaped UK libel and privacy law, and in the process made him the country’s most controversial high court judge”.
Justice Eady’s notable cases included Mosley v News Group Newspapers, in which he awarded £60,000 damages (a record at the time) in 2008 to former Formula 1 President Max Mosley for breach of privacy by the News of the World – and excoriated the Murdoch tabloid for its conduct.
In an unusual step, The Mirror then gave a platform to the then editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, to attack Justice Eady’s Mosley judgment as “arrogant and amoral” for “inexorably and insidiously” imposing a privacy law on the British press – a claim that was quickly and roundly rebuffed as “misconceived” by eminent legal figures.
Justice Eady also granted an injunction in 2011 to prevent newspapers naming a premiership footballer who had been in an extra-marital relationship – a move The Mirror attacked in April 2011 as “draconian”.
Of the new high court claims against MGN, Professor of Media Law at the University of Leeds, Paul Wragg, said: “These very serious allegations raise profound questions; what was the motive for this clandestine behaviour? What did they plan to do with any information they found?
“Did they have follow their regulator’s code of conduct on clandestine investigations and subterfuge?
“Did they abide by their obligation not to engage in harassment intimidation or persistent pursuit?
“In short did they intrude into the private lives of judges presumably engaged in ruling on matters of privacy potentially involving MGN. At the very least this is seriously unethical behaviour.”
- The case continues…