Yesterday confirmed the degree of suspicion that was created between husbands and wives
The Independent, Friday 20 January 2012
The court was packed, so much so that the judge told late-comers they could be “undecorous” and sit on the floor. I got there early, expecting a crush, and managed to get a seat as the phone-hacking scandal reached one of its periodic peaks. On 18 separate occasions, a lawyer got up and described the extent of the News of the World‘s surveillance operation on particular individuals, from the actor Jude Law to the former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott. It was a shameful catalogue of phone hacking, blagging, harassment and interception of emails.
And on 18 occasions, News International’s counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, had to get up and apologise to the individual concerned. It was an unenviable task and he performed it doggedly, using the formal language agreed in advance by both sides. Because the list of victims was alphabetical, I had to wait until close to the end of the morning to get my apology. But it was worth the wait, bringing to an end an extraordinary period in my life which began nine months ago, when I was contacted by a detective from Operation Weeting.
A month after that I saw the notes made about me in 2004 by a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, who’d been asked to spy on me and my then partner by a journalist from the News of the World. I guess it was all in a day’s work for Mulcaire. I don’t know if he was even aware that my partner’s eldest daughter had been killed in an accident only six weeks earlier. Mulcaire did know that I wrote for another News International title, The Times, because he made a note of it. He also knew I was going to Spain – he made a note of that as well – though possibly not that I was due to speak about the importance of free expression at an international writers’ conference.
It’s easy to joke about phone hacking and think it’s of little consequence. Some people assume that the silent listeners had to sit through dozens of mundane messages about picking up dry-cleaning, but my experience and that of other victims suggests it was much more serious than that. One of the reasons I was so angry was the sickening realisation that strangers had listened to my voicemails in the aftermath of a private tragedy.
Yesterday’s statements in open court confirmed the degree of suspicion created between husbands and wives, friends and employees, who couldn’t understand how intensely private material was ending up in a national newspaper. Back in 2002 or 2003, the suggestion that hundreds of public figures and people close to them were under illegal surveillance by journalists would have seemed like something out of a thriller.
It’s also important to point out that until quite recently, News International was intending to contest many of these cases. Remember the “rogue” reporter defence? News International’s lawyers actually entered defences in some of the cases they’ve just settled, changing their position only after our lawyers kept returning to court. The result was nine separate disclosures that showed the astonishing scale of phone hacking, and what our lawyers describe bluntly as a “cover up”.
Of the 18 cases settled yesterday, only a handful of us have chosen to keep our compensation awards private. I’ve accepted £27,500 plus costs, which I think reflects he gravity of what happened at the News of the World. Our lawyers said that we, the victims, feel vindicated by the settlements. We no longer feel we have to persuade others that bad things were done to us – and I hope it means they won’t ever be done to anyone else. The last few months have been gruelling, but my faith in decent, ethical journalism remains unshaken.