Did phone hacking by Mirror newspapers cause ‘harm’?

A lawyer representing Mirror Group of tabloid newspapers has argued that while unauthorised access to voicemail messages was “unlawful and wrong” it did not result in “permanent harm”.

Mirror hacking headline

Matthew Nicklin QC told the High Court hacking was “unlawful and wrong” but none of the victims in the case claimed their lives had been “ruined”.

The firm has admitted publishing more than a 100 stories based on hacking the claimants’ voicemails from 1999-2009.

Mr Nicklin said hacking was an “unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into people’s private lives and it shouldn’t have happened”.

He did not suggest what damages should be paid, but said none of the claimants had their ability to work impaired or needed psychiatric care as a result.

“While they may be upset and even angry” about it, he said, “not one of them has claimed – nor could they – that their lives have been ruined”.

It’s an interesting point of view, and not one I would agree with. I guess it would depend on your definition of “harm” and “ruin”.

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Certainly, the personal cost inflicted upon the private lives of some celebrities appears to have been considerable.

Paul GascoigneJust check out the impact the hacking is said to have had on the likes of footballer Paul Gascoigne, Coronation Street’s Shobna Gulati and her family, as well as Eastenders actors Shane Richie, Lucy Benjamin and Steve McFadden.

“I was scared to speak to anybody… my parents, my family and kids, it was just horrendous. And people can’t understand why I became an alcoholic.”

“It is very sad to me that a lot of damage has already been done to my family that cannot easily be fixed… My apologising to them now cannot turn back the clock for things I have said to them and the hurt that this has caused.” – Paul Gascoigne

The newspaper group has already settled a number of other phone-hacking claims from celebrities.

For those not up to speed, here is a video I made last year when Mirror Group first admitted that their staff had been hacking into voicemail accounts. In it you can hear Jeremy Paxman’s claim that Piers Morgan taught him how to hack phones, and a brief karaoke performance of a Beatles song from me.

Phone hacking at the Daily Mirror | Graham Cluley

Piers Morgan is not being tried in the current court case, and has strenuously denied that he had any knowledge of any phone hacking while he was an editor at Mirror Group.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

5 comments on “Did phone hacking by Mirror newspapers cause ‘harm’?”

  1. Gerry

    So this barrister would not object to me entering his house, without doing damage:
    Perhaps sitting in his bedroom while he slept, as long as I did not wake him?
    Cook myself a meal using my own paid for ingredients and clean up afterwards?
    Use his bathroom but not his soap as long as I left things as I found them?

    I do not see that I would do him any long term harm, do you???

    1. Coyote · in reply to Gerry

      Well, to be realistic, you could use his food (be it produce, meat [especially expensive meat like fish, if you like fish] or anything else) etc. to cook your food, you could leave a mess, and you could leave a mess in that other place, for that matter. It wouldn't cause him long term harm. You could also make use of his computer, his phone, and while you're at it, why not take a nap in his spare bedroom? It still wouldn't cause him long term harm, would it? No.

      On the other hand, he would feel that his home was invaded, that his privacy was breached… and it would be something that he would in some respects deserve (or if nothing else, it certainly would be cruel irony though perfect 'victim', in that way, seeing as how he defends others for similar things [similar things = invasion of privacy through unathorised access to voice mailboxes, in this case]).).

  2. Coyote

    "Mr Nicklin said hacking was an "unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into people's private lives and it shouldn't have happened"."

    And invasion of privacy is a huge problem and it has implications besides those mentioned – it has security implications, too, because what they gather from listening (which is what they're doing, frankly) can give them more information to social engineer, to check others voice mail which gives them additional boxes to check, additional information to write about. I.e. it isn't just the victims that were the direct target – there is no direct target here, in that way.

    "He did not suggest what damages should be paid, but said none of the claimants had their ability to work impaired or needed psychiatric care as a result."
    That would be psychological and not psychiatric. Psychiatry involves medical doctors, i.e. a medical doctor with a specialty in psychotropics (and yes they do understand psychology – obviously – but there's a difference between psychiatry and clinical psychology). Of course, on the subject of medical care, one could argue that added stress/etc. could increase the chance of needing medial care. But being under the care of a medical doctor (or therapist or …) is irrelevant to the situation and you're misdirecting, quite intentionally, in order to help your client's case. But even if they don't claim they need it, it doesn't mean there is no harm. If nothing else it is stressful, frustrating, angering (as you even state! and anger is not healthy, I know this from experience but it doesn't take much experience to see this, anyway), …, list goes on. And the bottom line is this: none of this justifies any of your client's actions and to use that as part of a justifying it (which is what is being done – you're the lawyer for the corporation, yes? Then you're justifying what they're doing even if making it seem like you're also understanding the others [and frankly if your own privacy was invaded you would deserve it ….]).

    "While they may be upset and even angry" about it, he said, "not one of them has claimed – nor could they – that their lives have been ruined".
    That's up to perspective and you can't have a perspective of their life because you aren't living it. Of course, as a lawyer you'd be arrogant enough to make claims like this, but the fact is they absolutely could claim it and whether it is true or isn't is again up to interpretation (and abuse[1] is a very dark thing, and while some of it might not show itself right away, much is still lurking in the shadows, and able to come forth later on).

    [1] Whether it is that bad or not isn't for anyone to decide – not anyone except those affected. In other words, not me and especially not your client and the one (i.e. you) defending said actions as legitimate. (Okay, fine, it is your job and lawyers do defend for both sides, but the fact you're directly admitting their guilt and yet try to justify it shows that you know there is a problem, and you should maybe focus on your own client instead [although your tactics do indeed work you still aren't a valid judge of the victims and how the actions of your client affected them]).

  3. Anonymous

    >He did not suggest what damages should be paid, but said none of the claimants had their ability to work impaired or needed psychiatric care as a result.

    Paul Gascoigne literally spent time in a mental health facility.

  4. Jez

    A Journalism lawyer employed to be the mouthpiece of a daily rag.

    I truly do believe that these guys are so ignorant to the workings of the "real" world that when they say that no one's lives were ruined that they actually do believe that crap. Basically they are immune to the feelings of the common man and like their clients, see everyone as a target and not a victim. If it earns them a buck then in their eyes they are fair game.

    Sad I know, but a realistic indictment upon British Journalism and the British Judiciary!

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