WE were told yesterday that Heather Mills, the former wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney, won a substantial sum of money from News Group Newspapers over the hacking of her mobile phone.

This award has been justly hailed as a victory against a giant media corporation which used unethical means to obtain information that was subsequently published for public titillation.

However, it will not be long before this victory is seized upon by those who campaign for greater restriction on the press, and on free speech generally.

The hacking of Ms Mills's phone was clearly wrong, an invasion of privacy.

But this will be extended to try to clamp down on what people say.

There is, and always has been, a section of the public that thinks it is entirely right and proper for the government to be able to control what people are allowed to say in public.

It is becoming more and more common to read about storms of protests being stirred up on Twitter against people, usually celebrities, who has said something that is incautious or downright stupid.

This has resulted in people being pilloried and sometimes having their careers destroyed - many people thinking deservedly so. Should they be prosecuted as well?

The trouble with this line of thinking is that it will be undoubtedly be possible to find someone in the world who will be offended by any possible statement that can be made.

Are we really willing to bring about a society where people can be persecuted for anything that offends anyone at all? If so, then no-one will be able to say anything at all.

Any freedom from tyranny that the human race has achieved over the centuries has been achieved in the face of implacable opposition from churches, monarchies, aristocrats and other centres of power.

And freedom of speech has been a crucial tool in achieving this.

Out of what they see as the best of motives, privacy campaigners are striving to undo that.

The power to censor the press will inevitably extended to cover the social media that have become so entwined in people's lives over recent years.

This is an issue that will affect absolutely everyone, not just the tiny minority who earn their living as journalists.