Guardian – Charlotte Church and her parents have settled their phone-hacking claim against the publisher of the News of the World, News International, in an agreement worth £600,000 ($950,000) in damages and costs, the high court has heard.
A statement agreed by the singer and the publisher of the now defunct newspaper read out at the high court in London on Monday revealed that Church’s voicemail messages were targeted repeatedly over a number of years and that the newspaper had “unlawfully obtained” and published “private medical information” about her and her mother after a suicide attempt by the latter.
It is understood that £300,000 of the £600,000 relates to legal costs, with the remaining £300,000 split between Church and her parents, Maria and James, in damages.
In a separate development, it has emerged that telephone numbers for two executives promoting Church in the US have been found in the notes of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who worked for the News of the World for several years up to mid-2006.
Mulcaire had the mobile phone numbers of Church’s Los Angeles agent and New York publicist, a source familiar with the matter has confirmed, although it is not known whether Scotland Yard has told them their phones were definitely hacked. “They feel very violated and annoyed,” said the source.
The FBI declined to comment on the latest revelations about Mulcaire’s notes. But the discovery could lead to the widening of current inquiries by US police into the activities of the News of the World on American soil. The phone-hacking scandal has so far been largely confined to the UK.
A separate investigation in the US would be extremely damaging to Rupert Murdoch. He is already facing the increasing prospect of a full-blown inquiry by US authorities as part of the continuing investigation into alleged bribery of public officials under America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, after 10 Sun journalists were arrested in relation to payments to police. Under US law, the bribing of foreign police officers could be deemed a violation of the act.
It is understood the size of the damages payout reflects the fact that Church, 26, was still a teenager when she was being targeted by the paper and that the voicemail interception and surveillance went on for a number of years. In one of the most shocking incidents, the court heard how Maria Church was coerced into giving an interview to the paper when she was at her most vulnerable, after an attempted suicide seven years ago.
“Maria in particular is a vulnerable person, with a complex medical history. The News of the World found out about this and published private details of her hospital treatment,” the high court heard.
“At her lowest moment, the News of the World issued her with an ultimatum and coerced her into giving them an in-depth interview about her self-harming and attempted suicide. She felt she had no choice but to give the interview and was deeply traumatised by the publication of the story in the News of the World.”
The statement said the paper began hacking Charlotte Church’s phone in 2002, that it also obtained details of a relationship with her first teenage boyfriend and published them and continued to intercept her voicemails for “many years”.
The court did not disclose how the payout was split between Church and her parents, but the aggregate figure makes the settlement one of the highest payouts in more than 50 civil cases brought by victims of News of the World phone hacking so far settled by News International.
Last summer Murdoch made an exceptional settlement with the family of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler, paying out £2m in damages and a further £1m towards charities of her parents’ choice.
The top end of the other civil payouts have included a £200,000 damages payment to the former Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell, £130,000 to actor Jude Law and £100,000 to actor Sienna Miller.
Church had claimed in her lawsuit against News Group Newspapers, the News International subsidiary that published the News of the World, that 33 articles in the News of the World were a result of hacking of her and her family’s phones between 2002 and 2006.
She sought damages for the invasion of privacy caused by this but also exemplary damages for the distress caused to her and the impairment allegedly caused to her mother’s mental health.
Seven years ago, the paper had published a story about an affair her father had had and approached Maria Church to tell her they had a “part two” of the story which they promised they would withdraw if she gave a first-hand account of her suicide attempt. They also asked to take photographs of her arms.
Reading the statement, the Church family’s solicitor, Mike Brookes, told the high court Charlotte’s parents “are not in the public eye” and the “motivation for this intrusion into the lives of two essentially private and ordinary individuals was to make money”.
The statement detailed the pursuit of Church by reporters and photographers working on behalf of the News of the World. The statement said:
“Charlotte was also regularly harassed and even placed under surveillance by the News of the World and those paid by them. They followed the every move of a teenage girl. We will never of course now know the full extent of what they did, because as we are aware, much of the data is now destroyed.”
NGN told the court that it had offered its “sincere apologies to the Church family for the way they have been treated”. It acknowledged in court that “they should never have had to endure what they have suffered and the NGN are liable for the damage they have caused”.
The Churches’ solicitor said the scale of the News of the World’s operation would never have come out were it not for the “courage and determination of Maria, James and Charlotte”.
Brookes said the family agreed to the £600,000 settlement but they “would of course have much preferred to have been left alone by the News of the World and never have had this happen to them”.
Church said she would be using her portion of the damages to fight further legal battles against newspapers for alleged invasion of privacy.