Legal Media Top Stories

Church explains decision to settle over phone hacking

By | Published on Tuesday 28 February 2012

Charlotte Church

Charlotte Church has apologised to those who are disappointed that she decided not to pursue her phone hacking litigation to court, explaining that she feared for her family’s mental well-being if she took the legal action all the way.

As previously reported, until last week Church was the one remaining person from the first batch of celebrities told that they had had their voicemail accounts hacked by the News Of The World to have not settled out of court with the paper’s publisher News International. With procrastination tactics from NI’s lawyers having failed, it looked like Church’s case might get a court hearing, but then last week it was confirmed she too had settled.

Those frustrated with the slow speed of the Metropolitan Police’s late-in-the-day investigations into illegal practices at News International had hoped that if a civil case actually came to court then some remaining questions could be answered about exactly what went on at the News Of The World, who within News International knew about the illegal activity, to what extent they went to cover it up, and why it took so long for the authorities to properly act.

With the criminal investigation ongoing, it actually wasn’t clear how much could be addressed in the civil courts, but if nothing else, a high profile celebrity court hearing on the issue would have been nice and embarrassing for the cover up merchants running Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper business. But it wasn’t to be. Church’s lawyers settled last week, for £600,000, half of which will cover legal fees to date.

Speaking about the settlement, Church says she felt her hand had been forced once it became clear that News International’s legal team would make any court case as emotionally damaging for her and her family as possible, by dragging up in detail those elements of her parents’ private lives that allegedly became public knowledge in the first place because of the NOTW’s phone hacking tactics.

Given much of Church’s anger over the whole phone hacking scandal is related to the mental distress the tabloid’s revelations caused her mother, she says she decided she couldn’t risk putting her family through another ordeal of that scale. However, while accepting an apology and compensation package in court, Church says she doesn’t believe News International’s management are genuinely sorry for its papers’ past illegal actions, and rather they are just sorry they got caught.

Speaking to The Guardian, Church said: “I really wanted to take it all the way as well. I am really sorry, I hope people don’t feel let down, but the thing is it’s not so black and white, it’s definitely not a case of money; it became totally irrelevant. [But it felt like I was] trying to fight with two hands and a leg tied behind [my] back, and you can just kick with one leg. You just have to look at the court room, look at News International and their 25 lawyers and then look at the individuals with maybe their three lawyers and one barrister and a couple of juniors. You are fighting a massive corporation with endless resources, a phenomenal amount of power and it is just made really difficult”.

Presumably unable to deny the actual phone hacking, and the sourcing of stories from that route, NI’s legal team – according to Church – planned to focus on the extent to which those stories caused distress to the Church family, and especially Charlotte’s mother. There are legal grounds for doing so – for the court to award damages, it needs to consider what damage the defendant has actually caused and is therefore obliged to put right through compensation – though that whole process would have the happy side effect, for the defence, of throwing Mrs Church’s private life and mental health back into the spotlight all over again, causing new distress.

Referencing NI’s chief legal rep and moral vacuum for hire Michael Silverleaf, Church continued: “In the pre-trial hearing, Silverleaf made it reasonably plain the way they were going to be playing it. They [wanted to subject] my mother to a psychological analysis, which is ridiculous. How are you going to get a psychologist for an hour to judge what happened seven years ago? It was just a totally pointless exercise. They were just going to drag my parents through the mud again and I couldn’t let that happen”.

She concludes: “I’ve seen what it’s done to my family the first time round and they were going to do it all over again, which just says to me they haven’t learned anything”.

At the same time Church’s settlement was confirmed, a whole new set of revelations about illegal activities at News International – this time involving The Sun – were revealed, as the government’s Leveson Inquiry moved onto the relationship between certain newspaper publishers and the police, government and the civil service. Nevertheless, Murdoch and his NI business were in a buoyant mood after the launch of a Sunday edition of The Sun this weekend seemingly sent the company’s new Sunday title to the top of the pack on its first outing. Shifting over three million copies, the Sun On Sunday immediately hit its red top rivals, which previously benefited in terms of sales from the NOTW’s sudden demise at the peak of the phone hacking scandal last summer.