The Duke of Sussex, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Sir Elton John are among six people suing the publisher of The Daily Mail over alleged unlawful information-gathering at its titles.
A statement released on Thursday by lawyers acting for the group, which also includes Sir Elton’s husband David Furnish and actresses Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost, said they are bringing claims for misuse of private information against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).
It said the group have “become aware of compelling and highly distressing evidence that they have been the victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by ANL – which is also the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.
The publisher hit back at the allegations, describing them as “preposterous smears” and a “pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone hacking scandal”.
Filings at the High Court in London showed that claims were filed on behalf of Sir Elton and Mr Furnish, Baroness Lawrence and Ms Hurley on Thursday afternoon.
Baroness Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racially-motivated attack in Eltham, south London in 1993, has also lodged a claim against Rupert Murdoch-owned News Group Newspapers, publisher of various titles including The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World.
The details of that claim are not known, but it is understood to also relate to misuse of private information.
The statement about the legal action against ANL, released by Hamlins law firm, claims that the unlawful acts which are alleged to have taken place include the hiring of private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes and the recording of private phone conversations.
It also alleges that payments were made to police “with corrupt links to private investigators” for sensitive information, that medical information was “obtained by deception” and that bank accounts and financial information was accessed “through illicit means and manipulation”.
The statement read: “It is apparent to these individuals that the alleged crimes listed above represent the tip of the iceberg – and that many other innocent people remain unknowing victims of similar terrible and reprehensible covert acts.
“They have now therefore banded together to uncover the truth, and to hold the journalists responsible fully accountable, many of whom still hold senior positions of authority and power today.
“These individuals have been the subject of public interest during the course of their careers and personal lives.
“They are united in their desire to live in a world where the press operates freely, yet responsibly. A press that represents truth, is sourced in fact and can be trusted to operate ethically and in the interests of the British public.”
Hamlins is representing the duke and Ms Frost, while the other claimants are represented by law firm Gunnercooke.
A spokesman for Associated Newspapers said: “We utterly and unambiguously refute these preposterous smears which appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone hacking scandal concerning articles up to 30 years old.
“These unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims, based on no credible evidence, appear to be simply a fishing expedition by claimants and their lawyers, some of whom have already pursued cases elsewhere.”
In a subsequent statement, the company said the Doreen Lawrence allegations were “appalling and utterly groundless smears” adding: “The Daily Mail has campaigned tirelessly for 25 years to obtain justice for Stephen Lawrence and other victims of injustice.”
While there have been a number of damages claims over unlawful activity at newspapers in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal – most of which have settled – this is the first claim to be brought against ANL.
News Group Newspapers (NGN) has settled claims relating to the now-defunct News Of The World, while never admitting any liability over claims made in relation to The Sun.
Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) has settled claims relating to its titles, including The People and The Sunday Mirror.
Both publishers are currently facing further claims, and have recently made attempts to bring the long-running litigation to an end.
In recent days, shortly before a deadline for claims to be submitted, Baroness Lawrence and various other high-profile figures have filed claims at the High Court against NGN.
Court filings show claims have been launched against NGN by a host of celebrities, musicians, sports stars and politicians, including comedian Jimmy Carr, television presenter Jonathan Ross, Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles – the former husband of the Queen Consort – and former Liberal Democrat leaders Sir Vince Cable and Tim Farron.
The Mail, under then-editor Paul Dacre, campaigned for many years to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice.
Nathan Sparkes, chief executive of Hacked Off, which campaigns for media reform, said in a statement: “The claim lodged on behalf of Baroness Lawrence raises the possibility that, while publicly applauding themselves as the defenders of the family’s interests, the paper was actively listening on their voicemail messages, and spying on them, in pursuit of new stories.”
He added that the Government should re-establish the second part of the Leveson inquiry into press standards.