Monday, March 12, 2012

Gordon Ramsey Sues Publicist Over Hacked Email Content

Celebrity publicist and former Sunday tabloid editor Phil Hall is being sued by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay over allegations that he sold private information based on hacked emails to a national newspaper last year.

The high court in London heard on Friday that Ramsay is seeking damages for breach of privacy from Hall, who is now chief executive of the PR firm PHA media and who was the editor of the News of the World in the late 1990s.

Hall is alleged to have received private information about Ramsay from the chef's former business partner and father-in-law, Christopher Hutcheson, which was later discovered to have been unlawfully intercepted from Ramsay's email account in 2011.

It had emerged during a bitter legal battle between Ramsay and Hutcheson that the celebrity chef's former father-in-law had unlawfully accessed Ramsay's emails. The dispute was eventually settled with Ramsay paying Hutcheson £2m to buy him out of the chef's catering empire earlier this year.

Ramsay's lawyers claimed that Hall had conspired with Hutcheson to publish personal information about the chef while the dispute with the chef was ongoing. Pushpinder Saini QC, for Ramsay, told the court: "We see at least two occasions where Mr Hall and Mr Hutcheson have colluded to reveal private information about Mr Ramsay and his family."

Hall's lawyers said that the public relations man did not know that any emails had been unlawfully intercepted. Matthew Nicklin, counsel for Hall, told the court that that "Mr Hall knew nothing about the hacking" of emails by Hutcheson.

The information sold by Hall to the Daily Mail – and allegedly obtained from intercepted emails – concerned a shark-fishing trip attended by the chef shortly before he appeared in a TV programme deploring the trade, the high court was told.

The court heard that Hall also leaked information to the press about Ramsay's hair transplant.

"[Ramsay] had always suspected that someone had leaked to the press that he had had a hair transplant … [Hall] is behind the hair transplant story as well," Saini told the court. "It is admitted by Mr Hall that he was behind the hair transplant story."

However, Matthew Nicklin, counsel for Hall, told the court that that "Mr Hall knew nothing about the hacking" of emails by Hutcheson who was in dispute with Ramsay at the time.

Ramsay's claim is for breach of private information, breach of confidence, breach of copyright and conspiracy. Counsel for Hall told the court that there is "no evidence" in the emails between Halls and Hutcheson that the former NotW editor knew that any information was illicitly obtained. Hall wants the court to strike out the claim.

Mr Justice Vos will consider at a hearing later in March whether the case should proceed to trial.

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