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Ex-Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne settles News Group hacking claim

Chris Huhne speaking outside the Rolls Building after the settlement (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Chris Huhne speaking outside the Rolls Building after the settlement (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Former Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Chris Huhne and a number of celebrities have settled hacking claims against News Group Newspapers.

A judge was told, at a High Court hearing in London on Tuesday, that comedian Catherine Tate, radio presenter Chris Moyles and Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm were among celebrities who had reached settlements after making complaints about information misuse and taken legal action.

Mr Justice Fancourt was overseeing the latest hearing in long-running litigation involving News Group, which publishes The Sun and used to publish the News Of The World.

He was given detail of settlements by lawyers at a High Court hearing in London on Tuesday.

Mr Huhne was at the hearing and said, outside court, that he had also reached an agreement with News Group.

Former Boyzone member Shane Lynch, actor Mathew Horne and actor Keith Allen, father of singer Lily Allen, had also reached settlements, the judge was told.

Catherine Tate
Catherine Tate is among the celebrities who have reached settlements after making hacking claims against News Group Newspapers (Matt Crossick/PA)

Lawyers told Mr Justice Fancourt that Davinia Douglass, a survivor of the London July 7 2005 bombings, had also reached a settlement.

News Group Newspapers has previously settled a number of other claims.

Lawyers representing celebrities read agreed statements at a hearing in the Rolls Building in central London.

A barrister representing News Group Newspapers apologised and no detail of damages was given.

Mr Huhne said he had made complaints about information-gathering and as part of the settlement he would get “six-figure” damages.

Mr Huhne raised concerns about the power wielded by media outlets controlled by mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family.

He said “UK and Australian political systems” had allowed “the Murdochs” to become “far too powerful”.

“I confidently predict there will be little or no reporting of this settlement in The Times, Sunday Times, Sun, Sun on Sunday, Talk TV, Times Radio, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, Marketwatch, Australian, Sky News Australia, News.com.au, Fox News or Fox TV stations, because they are all owned by the Murdochs,” he said.

“Nor will HarperCollins or its imprints be making me an offer for the book rights, or the Times Literary Supplement reviewing it.

“This concentration of power is an insult to pluralism.”

Ms Tate had taken action under her real name, Catherine Ford.

The judge was told that Catherine Tate is her stage name.

Solicitor Christopher Hutchings, who represented Ms Tate, said her claim had involved an allegation of “misuse of private information”.

“In September 2022, Ms Tate issued proceedings against the defendant, where she pleaded that her voicemail messages were intercepted by the defendant’s journalists and she claimed that, consequentially, the defendant’s journalists were privy to private and confidential voicemail messages left on her mobile telephone,” he told the judge.

“Ms Tate identified a significant number of articles published by the defendant’s newspapers between 2005 and 2011, which she asserted contained her private information.”

He added: “Ms Tate claimed that the publication of the articles caused her distress.”

News Group Newspapers hacking claims
Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm is among the celebrities who have reached settlements after making hacking claims against News Group Newspapers (Ian West/PA)

Mr Hutchings told the judge: “The defendant … has agreed to join in this statement to apologise in open court to Ms Tate for the distress caused to her by the invasion of her privacy by individuals working for or on behalf of the News Of The World.

“The defendant makes no admission of liability in relation to the claimant’s allegations of voicemail interception and/or other unlawful information gathering at The Sun.”

Solicitor Katie Major, who represented Ms Chisholm – better known as Mel C or Sporty Spice – told the judge: “As a result of the defendant’s articles, she became paranoid and suspicious as to who was the source of the private information published in its newspapers.

“Ms Chisholm alleged that the level of intrusion was significant, and this caused her considerable distress.

“Ms Chisholm asserted that it had a detrimental impact on her reputation, her relationships with friends and family, and her mental health has profoundly suffered as a result.

“Ms Chisholm feels that the intense paranoia that she experienced at the time is still ongoing.”

She added: “The defendant has … agreed to join in this statement to apologise publicly to Ms Chisholm for the distress caused to her by the invasion of her privacy by individuals working for or on behalf of the News of the World.

“The defendant makes no admission of liability in relation to Ms Chisholm’s allegations of voicemail interception and/or other unlawful information gathering at The Sun.”

News of the World
The News of the World closed down in 2011 (Alamy/PA)

A spokesperson for News Group Newspapers (NGN) said in a generic statement on the civil cases: “In 2011, an unreserved apology was made by NGN to victims of voicemail interception by the News of the World. Since then, NGN has been paying financial damages to those with proper claims.

“As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago. In some cases, it has made commercial sense for both parties to come to a settlement agreement before trial to bring a resolution to the matter.

“There are a number of disputed claims still going through the civil courts some of which seek to involve The Sun. The Sun does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations. Time limitation is now also an issue in a number of the outstanding claims. A new trial date has been set for January 2025.

“All of these matters are historical, dating back to a period between 1996 and 2012.”

A spokesperson for News UK said, in relation to Mr Huhne’s case and statement:  “Chris Huhne and Hacked Off have a long-standing animus against this company and its publications. They have jointly released a statement following the settlement of his legal claim. It makes a number of serious allegations which are denied.

“Mr Huhne had the right to go to trial but chose to negotiate a financial settlement and to settle his legal action rather than have these allegations tested at trial.

“It is strongly denied that there was any corporate motive or direction to obtain information unlawfully. Huhne was a senior politician and stories published were legitimate and in the public interest.”

The Hacked Off Campaign organisation, which was established in 2011 in response to phone-hacking revelations and campaigns for a “free and accountable press for the public”, said Mr Huhne had been one the first parliamentarians to call for a police investigation into allegations of widespread hacking at the News of the World.

Hacked Off chief executive Nathan Sparkes added: “Until we have the detailed public inquiry into how the phone hacking scandal happened, which Mr Huhne called for 10 years ago, the organisations and individuals behind these attacks on our democracy will escape accountability.”