Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Leaked McCartney papers traced to a London newsagents

The leak of documents from the divorce of Sir Paul and Heather Mills McCartney that started a frenzy of headlines last week was today traced to a mysterious woman and a newsagent's fax machine near Covent Garden.

The Press Association received 13 pages of Lady McCartney's response to Sir Paul McCartney's petition for divorce at its headquarters in Howden, east Yorkshire, just after 1.30pm last Tuesday. The papers contained allegations that Sir Paul violently attacked his wife during their four-year marriage.

The news agency did not run the story because it did not know whether the papers were authentic but The Daily Mail published extracts from the papers the following day, starting six days of non-stop coverage of what is expected to be the highest profile British divorce of the decade.

But the Press Association announced today that its IT department had traced the fax to a newsagent's, Drury News, on Drury Lane, in central London: "Although it is not possible to be certain, the agency did receive a fax from the central London number at the time the McCartney divorce document was received," the agency said.

The source of the leak remains unknown, with both sides vehemently denying any role in the divulging of the confidential documents. Divorce lawyers have said the allegations may damage both parties when the case comes to court.

Peter Mehta, the owner Drury News, added a note of mystery today when he said he remembered helping a woman with an American or Canadian accent send a fax last Tuesday afternoon. He described the woman as aged between 35 and 45, about 5ft 6ins tall and brunette.

"I mostly use the fax for my own purposes but people can come in and use it," he said. "I remember someone coming in, a woman. I think she might have been from the US or Canada - her accent was definitely different.

"When she came in, she was very good at the fax. I put the first page through and then she did the rest. We checked the fax number and she sent it."

Mr Mehta, who charges £1 for the first page of a fax and then 50p for every page after that, said he had not seen the document and did not recognise the woman who sent it. "Most people use their offices to send faxes, so it is quite unusual," he said. "But I don’t watch over them. I let people get on with what they are doing and then they pay me at the end."

The leaked divorce papers, which were missing five pages believed to contain material damaging to Lady McCartney, began the next chapter in the brutally public breakdown of relations between Sir Paul and his second wife. On the day they were published, Sir Paul's solicitors, Payne Hicks Beach, said the former Beatle would contend the "allegations vigorously and appropriately".

Mischon de Reya, Lady McCartney's lawyers, said today that their client was suing The Daily Mail and London's Evening Standard for publishing "false, damaging and immensely upsetting" statements about her. Lady McCartney is also contemplating taking legal against The Sun.

Heather Mills-McCartney to sue

Lady McCartney is to sue two newspapers over "false, damaging and immensely upsetting" statements surrounding her divorce from Sir Paul, her lawyers said today.

Solicitors Mishcon de Reya named the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard and said that legal action would also be taken against The Sun.

They did not rule out other titles being included in the future.

"Her time and resources are not infinite. She cannot sue - for now, at least - every single newspaper that has published false, damaging, and immensely upsetting statements about her.

"She should not thereby be taken to have accepted that these statements are true," said the statement.

In the statement, Lady McCartney’s representatives said she had been vilified in the media and was now being stalked by photographers.

"She is stalked by press photographers, who congregate outside her home and chase after her in cars - regardless of her safety or the safety of her daughter."

The storm over the McCartneys’ increasingly bitter divorce began last Tuesday when legal papers from the case were leaked to the press.

The document, apparently prepared by Mishcon de Reya in answer to Sir Paul’s divorce petition, contained allegations that he mistreated his wife, the former model Heather Mills, during the couple’s four-year marriage.

The ex-Beatle, through his lawyers, insisted he would "vigorously" defend himself against the claims.

Since then, the couple have rarely been out of the headlines.

Mishcon de Reya said: "It would appear that the media has concluded that there are no limits to what may be said about, or done to, our client."

The lawyers said it was "entirely false" that Lady McCartney had been offered a £30 million divorce settlement from Sir Paul.

"The truth is that no settlement offer, in any amount, has been made. She is pursued everywhere she goes.

Mishcon de Reya issued a copy of a letter, apparently from The Mail on Sunday’s investigations editor Dennis Rice, offering Lady McCartney’s sister Fiona a "substantial sum" for information about the divorce.

It said the letter was hand-delivered and promised anonymity.

"It requires no imagination to conclude what kind of information was being sought from our client’s closest confidante, nor why the assurance of confidentiality was believed to be necessary."

The statement finished: "We ask on behalf of our client for the media, as a matter of common decency, please now to show some restraint."