- THE SUN has been successfully sued for the first time – on its own – for unlawful information gathering
- SIR SIMON HUGHES blasted the paper for ‘blackmailing’ him with an illegally obtained dossier
- UNTIL NOW, Murdoch’s daily paper has hidden behind the criminality that took place at its sister title, the News of the World
- HOWEVER, Ex-Lib-Dem MP Sir Simon Hughes has now won a settlement in a groundbreaking ‘Sun-only’ claim
- ACTOR SIENNA MILLER and ex-footy player Paul Gascoigne have also filed ‘Sun-only’ lawsuits but have not yet settled
- LAWYERS fighting against NGN claim the precedent will ‘open the floodgates’ for victims suing The Sun
- EARLIER in the case, The Sun PLEADED INNOCENCE – Saying only News Of The World ‘Hacked’
- HOWEVER, the High Court has heard how The Sun bought Hughes’ itemised billing data from an illegal private investigator
SIR SIMON HUGHES has blasted The Sun for ‘blackmailing’ him with illegally obtained information and forcing him to ‘out’ himself.
The former Shadow Attorney General spoke out ‘on the steps’ of the High Court after winning big damages for unlawful information gathering.
Hughes also said that the corruption went ‘right to the top’ of the controversial newspaper.
Rebekah Brooks was the Editor at the time when Hughes was targeted by private investigators tasked by The Sun.
She was famously cleared of phone hacking charges and reinstalled as CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s British publisher.
But now she’s under pressure again.
Hughes’ court case revealed how the paper ‘did not give him a choice’ other than to cooperate with a story which smeared him for being gay.
Mr Hughes said: ‘This was to do with unlawful obtaining of phone bills by The Sun.
‘This explains what happened 15 years ago when The Sun came to me and said they had information about my relationships.
‘In this case, we know that it wasn’t just private investigators – it went right to the top. The people at the top were quite clearly involved.’
Rebekah Brooks was in overall charge at the time, however her political editor was the bagman chosen to deliver the bad news to Hughes that he was about to be gratuitously ‘turned-over.’
Rupert Murdoch’s top parliamentary journalist Trevor Kavanagh then outed the MP as gay by using illegal phone billing data bought from Britain’s biggest data theft operation.
It is not known whether Kavanagh, who later went onto serve on the press regulator IPSO, knew that the story tip he was working on was derived from an unlawful private detective.
However, the paper has now paid undisclosed damages to Hughes at the High Court.
Astonishingly – and despite the substantial pay-out – the paper’s publisher News Group Newspapers (NGN) has not admitted liability on behalf of The Sun.
The two sides couldn’t even agree on a joint statement, leaving the question of an apology to Hughes, and an admission of guilt by The Sun, up in the air.
The way in which The Sun used the private data to manipulate Hughes into cooperating with the paper has been described by critics as ‘blackmail.’
In 2006, The Sun had found out phone numbers which the ex-Shadow Home Secretary called frequently, call times and durations.
The sensitive data was bought from a notoriously illegal private investigator firm called ELI.
At the beginning of the case, Hughes was shown this disclosure and was ‘deeply troubled and shocked.’
ELI (Express Locate International) was a private detective company, which has been linked in other litigation to phone hacking, and which sold illegally-acquired private and personal information to newspapers across Fleet Street.
In the middle of a leadership contest in January 2006, Trevor Kavanagh told Mr Hughes that they had obtained private and sensitive data, but did not reveal how.
Based on this, the journalist said the paper was going to publish a story that Hughes had engaged in homosexual activities.
Hughes ‘believed that with or without his agreement,’ The Sun would publish the story anyway, according to a statement read in open court.
He felt that ‘he had no choice but to cooperate and this resulted in a front page article on January 26 2006.’
The story ended-up misrepresenting Hughes’ sexual orientation.
Earlier in the hearing, the court heard that ELI relayed the call data, which included a list of phone numbers called from Mr Hughes’ landline, to The Sun News Desk, which then passed it up the line to Sun bosses.
The information was sent first to News Desk Executive James Clothier, who in turn informed his line manager, Head of News Chris Pharo.
Some of the data was private and potentially embarrassing for Mr Hughes.
This data eventually found its way to Kavanagh who used it as leverage to get Mr Hughes to confess to being gay, a fact which may have weakened his bid for the Lib Dem leadership.
At an earlier hearing, Hughes’ barrister David Sherborne told the court: ‘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.
‘On the following day, 26 January 2006, The Sun published a front-page article about Mr Hughes entitled ‘I’m Gay Too’.
‘This unlawful activity is pleaded by the claimants… as a further example of senior NGN Employees being involved in, knowing about, or approving illegal activities.’
Lawyers for News Group Newspapers denied that any illegal activity took place.
However, the High Court heard that NGN tried to cover-up allegations of wrong-doing.
David Sherborne told the court: ‘He (Hughes) relied upon evidence of concealment at, numerous statements….asserting that The Sun journalists were not involved in unlawful activity.’
Mr Hughes has already successfully sued the News of the World in 2011/12.
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.”