The Daily Mail has sought to delay the publication of potentially damaging court allegations about its journalism made by Prince Harry, Doreen Lawrence, Elton John and others.
Lawyers acting for the group of high-profile individuals claim they have “compelling and highly distressing evidence” they have been the “victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers over many years.
The claimants – who also include Hugh Grant, Sadie Frost, David Furnish and Liz Hurley – filed proceedings against Associated Newspapers at the start of October. Lawyers acting for the group allege that the Daily Mail’s parent company misused the celebrities’ private information, including an accusation relating to the placing of listening devices in private homes.
Paul Dacre, the current editor-in-chief of the Mail’s parent company, told the Leveson inquiry into press ethics that his newspaper group never engaged in illegal behaviour such as phone hacking. He is speculated to be in line for a peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours, but Labour MPs have called for this to be delayed pending the outcome of this legal action.
Under a normal legal timetable, the claims should have been formally acknowledged by the Daily Mail within 14 days from when they were served, automatically making the detailed allegations available for scrutiny by the public and the media.
However, two months later, the paperwork setting out the allegations against the Daily Mail and its sister titles is still not public. Sources with knowledge of the case said this followed a legal intervention by Associated Newspapers which has delayed formal acknowledgment – and therefore publication – of the claims.
This is despite the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s long record of campaigning against “secret justice” and for transparency in the court system. Spokespeople for the Daily Mail’s parent company did not respond to multiple requests for comment asking why the company had yet to acknowledge the claims.
Among the allegations against Associated Newspaper made by lawyers acting for the claimants were:
The hiring of private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside people’s cars and homes.
The commissioning of individuals to surreptitiously listen in to, and record, people’s live, private telephone calls while they were taking place.
The payment of police officials, with allegedly corrupt links to private investigators, for sensitive inside information.
The impersonation of individuals to obtain medical information from private hospitals, clinics, and treatment centres by deception.
The accessing of bank accounts, credit histories and financial transactions through illicit means and manipulation.
The Mail has previously denied all the claims as “preposterous smears” and said the legal cases consisted of “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims, based on no credible evidence”. They said the proceedings “appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal”.
Another individual, the former Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, is also bringing a case against Associated Newspapers, which is believed to make specific allegations of voicemail interception on behalf of the newspaper’s report. This would represent the first time the Mail has faced a legal case relating to some of the same allegations that led to the closure of the News of the World, although the Mail has yet to respond publicly to these claims.