Prince Harry hacking trial as it happened: Les Dennis distress at 'private and intimate' details of Amanda Holden relationship being revealed in story (2023)

Key points
  • Phone hacking case brought by Prince Harry and others against Mirror Group Newspapers is in third week
  • MGN denies the claims and says some have been brought too late
  • John Cleese turns up at High Court
  • Mirror lawyer denies letter to police was 'misleading'
  • Les Dennis recalls distress at private details being 'exploited' for 'purpose of entertainment'
  • Legal teams argue over new evidence to 'scare off witnesses'
  • Court hears of payment to royal over story revealing confidential bank account details
  • Hacking claims 'just gossip' at first, ex-Trinity Mirror chairman says
  • Which celebrities are involved in the case?|What are the allegations?
  • Reporting by Katie Williamsat the High Court


Proceedings end for the day

That brings an end to today's session.

Court is not due to sit next week, and will return in June, when Prince Harry is expected to give evidence in his civil trial against Mirror Group Newspapers.

There's a brief moment before we exit the court as legal counsel discuss with the judge how the royal should be addressed in court.

They initially appear to opt for "your grace" followed by "sir" - before agreeing to settle on a finaldecision before he begins his testimony.

Before we leave you today, here's a quick recap of what we've heard today:

  • Ex-MGN lawyer Marcus Partington, the sole witness for today, was probed on his knowledge of alleged unlawful activity at MGN titles
  • He denied a suggestion by Prince Harry's lawyer David Sherborne that a letter he wrote to police following a journalist's arrest in 1999 was "misleading"
  • Mr Partington told the court that infringing on a person's privacy was "a matter for editors" and the legal team did not need to know the source of a story to give advice
  • Probed on a previous comment he made about a former People journalist being "London's best criminal", Mr Partington denied its was related to phone hacking, and was instead about a tobacco import sting
  • The former lawyer denied that he deleted emails spanning part of the period the claims cover to "conceal his knowledge of unlawful intelligence gathering"


Former MGN lawyer denies deleting emails to conceal knowledge of unlawful activity

The claimants' lawyer David Sherborne alleged in his outline argument that MGN "deleted or destroyed masses of documents, including emails" related to the period in which alleged unlawful activity is claimed to have taken place at its titles.

He suggests to ex-MGN lawyer Marcus Partington that he "deleted almost all emails" from 2000 to 2004 - to which the witness replies that he has no recollection of doing so.

"Mr Partington I have to put it to you that this period is a highly significant one," Mr Sherborne says.

"You're well aware of the significance of that period because 2004 is the first date you say you became aware of unlawful information gathering."

Mr Partington reiterates that he does not remember what happened with the deletion of his email inbox.

Mr Sherborne puts to the former lawyer that he "deliberately deleted emails" to "conceal his knowledge of unlawful information gathering before 2004, and in fact since 2000".

"That's not correct," Mr Partington responds.

That brings an end to David Sherborne's questioning of the witness.

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Witness says 'over a barrel' note was 'privileged' and 'disclosed without authority'

Back to the courtroom now, and David Sherborne is asking witness Marcus Partington, former MGN lawyer, about an employment claim brought by former People journalist David Brown against the publisher.

Mr Brown was sacked in 2006 after an investigation claimed to have found that he had put his byline on unused stories he had bought from a Daily Mirror colleague.

In a signed witness statement in 2007, Mr Brown detailed an array of evidence about alleged unlawful activities taking place at MGN titles.

Notes by Mr Partington on a copy of Mr Brown's statement, which are detailed in court documents, reveal the ex-MGN lawyer wrote: "No choice but to settle – as over a barrel" regarding one of the journalist's claims.

In his witness statement, Mr Partington says he believes the note is a record of the conversation with someone at DLA Piper employment advisers.

He claims a copy of the document with his markings was "kept securely in his office" and "made its way to the claimants' lawyers" through someone who had "no authority" to pass it on.

Mr Sherborne attempts to ask Mr Partington if the note refers to the fact he knew the contents of Mr Brown's statement are true - but there is an interjection from Andrew Green KC, representing MGN, and Mr Sherborne moves on.


Les Dennis recalls distress at private details being 'exploited' for 'purpose of entertainment'

Actor and comedian Les Dennis has described his distress at how "private, intimate and sensitive times" of his life were "exploited and intruded upon" by the Mirror's publisher.

The Family Fortunes host submitted a claim against MGN for voicemail interception in 2015, which was settled the following year.

It related to an article published in 2001, regarding an alleged falling out between his ex-wife Amanda Holden and her friend as a result of her becoming "too close" to Mr Dennis.

In his witness statement, released to the court this afternoon and submitted under his real name Leslie Heseltine, the actor says his relationship with Ms Holden was the subject of "intense media attention and intrusion".

The breakdown of their marriage was "made so much worse by the intense and relentless press attention", Mr Dennis says.

The publication of the article and a subsequent story which largely reused the information "surprised" and "upset" the former couple.

MGN reportedly admitted to Mr Dennis that the information used in the article was the product of phone hacking or other unlawful activities.

Despite the publisher accepting there was no justification for publishing the article, the comedian says he still finds it "unsettling and distressing" that "private, intimate and sensitive times of my life were exploited and intruded upon for the purpose of entertaining its readers and for generating profits for MGN".

"At the time, I recall being shocked at how easily our claim had been accepted and settled but now feel that they must have known that the method used to obtain the material for the publication, had been gathered unlawfully and therefore, it was settled quickly to avoid further scrutiny by us," Mr Dennis said.


Witness probed on 'London's best criminal' comment

Marcus Partington is now being asked about Sean Hoare, a former journalist at The Sunday People, published by defendant Mirror Group Newspapers.

In summer 2010, Mr Hoare exchanged emails with solicitor Charlotte Harris who was at the time bringing claims for voicemail interception.

In one email disclosed in court documents, Mr Hoare tells Ms Harris he "had a long chat with Marcus Partington".

"He has no idea that you and I talk. But he clearly knows the coup. He is a smart, informed man. I needed to talk to Marcus because I trust him and he knows my past — indeed he calls me London's best criminal..."

In his witness statement, Mr Partington says the reference to Mr Hoare being a "criminal" was in relation to a plan to import tobacco from Spain to the UK without paying taxes.

"Is that your explanation... 'London's best criminal' relates to a tobacco sting?" David Sherborne, lawyer for Prince Harry, asks.

"It is," replies Mr Partington.

Mr Sherborne puts to the witness that the pair had talked about Mr Hoare's history of phone hacking.

"He was talking to me about his past at NGN [News Group Newspapers] and whether to sign a witness statement in relation to that," Mr Partington replies.

"In terms of his knowledge and practice of phone hacking?" asks Mr Sherborne.

"At NGN, yes," the witness says.

"But he also worked at The People, didn’t he?"

"He did."

"That's why you called him 'London's best criminal' isn't it?"

"It isn't and I've just explained why."


Ex-MGN lawyer questioned on Rio Ferdinand story

David Sherborne moves to a Sunday Mirror article about Rio Ferdinand, published in 2003, which alleged the footballer had used his mobile phone in the period when he had missed a random drugs test.

It claimed that Mr Ferdinand's phone records were obtained by the paper to source the story.

It was reported after the article had been published that Ferdinand made a complaint to the former Press Complaints Commission and was not ruling out taking the matter to police.

Ex-MGN lawyer Marcus Partington said in his witness statement that he doesn't remember giving advice on the story or Ferdinand making a legal complaint.

He tells the court he doesn't remember the article.

"Possible action by police is something the legal department would have been made aware of wouldn't it?" Mr Sherborne asks.

Mr Partington responds: "If we'd had a complaint from police we would have been notified - the possibility of a complaint, no."

Mr Sherborne has previously claimed this story is one not properly investigated by the Mirror publisher's legal department.

He puts to Mr Partington that there was plenty of information in a letter to the Mirror publisher on Ferdinand's behalf that would warrant an investigation being launched - and the witness agrees.


Court resumes

This afternoon's session is under way after the lunch break.

David Sherborne, the lawyer representing Prince Harry, is continuing to question Marcus Partington, a former lawyer for Mirror Group Newspapers.

Actor John Cleese, who made a brief appearance at the High Court earlier today, is no longer in the courtroom.


Court breaks for lunch

The case will resume at 2pm - we will be back with live updates then.


Witness says he doesn't recall complaint about Amanda Holden article

David Sherborne now turns to a 2001 article about TV presenter Amanda Holden and her ex-husband Les Dennis.

It detailed an alleged falling out between Ms Holden and her friend as a result of her becoming "too close" to Les Dennis. The information was then largely reused for a further article.

It's alleged that the true "source" of the story came from the intercepting of private voicemails.

In his witness statement, ex-MGN lawyer Marcus Partington said he did not recall the articles or a legal complaint made about them.


Ex-MGN lawyer denies letter to police was 'misleading'

Prince Harry's lawyer David Sherborne accuses ex-MGN lawyer Marcus Partington of being "disingenuous" as he maintains a letter he wrote to police following the arrest of a Sunday Mirror journalist in 1999 was "accurate".

In it, Mr Partington told an officer his investigations found no evidence of payments from journalist Doug Kempster, or his employer the Sunday Mirror, to private investigator Jonathan Rees or his company Southern Investigations.

Mr Sherborne suggests it is "not technically correct" as the payment would have been made by the publisher, Mirror Group Newspapers - the defendant in this trial.

He says the letter was written in a "misleading" way and puts to Mr Partington that he "knew perfectly well" at the time that "MGN had been involved in payments".

Mr Partington denies this.

The witness says police had initially asked about Mr Kempster's payments to Mr Rees and the letter is "carefully worded".

"Lawyers have to be careful about what they say," Mr Partington adds.


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