Hacking victims win record court damages from UK tabloid Daily Mirror

LONDON (AFP) - The publisher of Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper was on Thursday ordered to pay former England football star Paul Gascoigne and seven other victims of phone-hacking "unparallelled" awards totalling £1.2 million (S$2.5 million).

Gascoigne, known as Gazza, was awarded £188,250 following a privacy trial at the High Court in London earlier this year, while actress Sadie Frost, the ex-wife of actor Jude Law, received £260,250.

Trinity Mirror, which owns the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People national tabloids, said it was considering an appeal.

But the company, which in February publicly apologised for the hacking of phone voicemails by its journalists, said it had once again increased its fund for compensating victims from £12 million to £16 million.

In his judgement, Judge George Anthony Mann said the victims had all suffered a "serious infringement of privacy" and the scale of the hacking was "very substantial indeed".

The ruling, which experts say represents a new bar in pay-outs in privacy cases heard in court, will now inform similar civil suits against the newspaper group.

"Today's judgement represents a milestone in the development of privacy law in the UK and the awarding of six-figure damages is truly historic and unparalleled," said a lawyer in the case, Daniel Taylor of Taylor Hampton.

James Heath of Atkins Thomson, another lawyer involved in the suit, said he had a "large number" of other cases in the pipeline.

Gascoigne's lawyer, Gerald Shamash, said his client was "relieved" at the judgement, which recognised the "sustained and intrusive impact" of stories published by the Mirror newspapers on his troubled client's life.

Trinity Mirror said in a statement: "Our initial view of the lengthy judgement is that the basis used for calculating damages is incorrect and we are therefore considering whether to seek permission to appeal."

The newspaper group has already settled with a number of victims of hacking, as has the rival News UK, the publisher of The Sun and the now defunct News of the World tabloids owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch shut the News of the World in July 2011 following public revulsion that it had hacked the voicemail of a schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.

Although Thursday's judgement is the largest in a privacy case, Murdoch's News UK has paid out millions in out of court settlements.

News UK paid Dowler's family £2 million in compensation and Murdoch made a £1 million personal donation to charities that they had chosen.