The sympathy that I once felt for Mr. and Mrs. Dowler, whose daughter Milly was murdered a few years ago, and whose mobile phone was hacked by the News of the World in the period immediately following her death, is dissipating rapidly.
In an act of corporate penance, News International, NoW’s parent company, offered to pay £1 million to the Dowlers and a further £1 million to a charity of their choice. The Dowlers allegedly turned it down. Presumably prodded by their lawyer – and perhaps encouraged by Max Clifford – the Dowlers said that while the £1 million donation to charity was a fine gesture, the family compensation ought to be at least £2 million.
Negotiations continue. Or so I gathered from one newspaper this morning.
Is this a settlement of a lawsuit? No, it is something quite different. The Murdochs, as is their wont, are offering money to the Dowlers as one of their now standard acts of contrition. They have already handed out cash to other hacking victims – actress Sienna Miller, for one – and will presumably distribute additional money from a £20 million fund set up for the purpose. The Dowlers had no doubt been informed by their advisors that an additional million would be neither here nor there to a family as wealthy as the Murdochs.
That much is indisputably true. I might add say that if anyone deserves compensation it is the bereaved Dowlers. Moreover, I would normally be among the last to object to watching the Murdochs squirm on the hook of public outrage.
So why do I feel uncomfortable about this transaction, which is what it appears to be? There is something grubby about haggling over a settlement from a company that not only is under no legal obligation to pay out but actually offered to pay out. Sure, the Murdochs can afford it, but that is beside the point. The Dowlers now look more like money-grubbing opportunists than the grieving parents they were a week ago. An ineffably sad story ought to have had, as a fitting memorial to Milly, an uplifting outcome, not this sordid denouement
Presumably the Dowlers will have to hand over a large chunk of the ‘winnings’ to their advisors – which may explain the demand for extra cash.
Shame on all of them, I say, but especially the lawyers.