Phone-hacking victims threaten ‘class action’ suit
Police will not reopen their News of the World investigation – but that need not stop politicians and celebrities suing
A number of politicians, sports personalities, actors and other celebrities are reported to be considering suing the News of the World following yesterday's revelations in the Guardian about the Sunday tabloid's systemic use of investigators to hack into their voicemail.
According to the Guardian, Rupert Murdoch's News Group has paid out £1m in out-of-court settlements to keep the practice quiet. Now that it is in the open- with Sir Alex Ferguson (above) and Alan Shearer the latest to be named as victims - several high-profile personalities, angered by the invasion of their privacy, have apparently contacted lawyers. Some commentators suggest that there could be enough victims to launch an American-style multi-million pound 'class action' suit.
The news follows yesterday's announcement by Scotland Yard that it would not reopen its investigation into phone-tapping by the News of the World because the Guardian report contained no new evidence.
Legal experts told the Guardian that the Scotland Yard decision would not affect the ability of alleged hacking victims to sue for breach of privacy.
Only two people have stated publicly that they are considering suing - the TV talk show host Vanessa Feltz, who said she felt "affronted, shocked and bewildered", and the Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes. But today's papers suggest many names who might join her. They include actors Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, television cook Nigella Lawson, singer George Michael, publicist Max Clifford and supermodel Elle Macpherson.
Graham Shear, a partner at law firm Teacher Stern, told the Daily Telegraph that a number of his clients, who include actors, sports stars and politicians, were considering legal action. The individuals may take a private prosecution over alleged phone hacking, or sue News International, which publishes the newspaper, for a gross invasion of privacy.
Today's papers address several aspects of the case:
WHY NO POLICE INVESTIGATION?
Assistant Commissioner John Yates, tasked yesterday with a speedy "examination of the facts" following the Guardian report, said no new evidence had come to light beyond that which led to the News of the World's royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire being jailed in January 2007.
The Daily Telegraph reports that lists of hundreds of names were recovered from Mulcaire's home at the time. But the names added up to a hitlist of potential targets: only a small number of their voicemails had been successfully tapped into.
The Yard's decision not to re-investigate was criticised last night by former deputy PM John Prescott, one of those whose messages were allegedly hacked. He told the BBC's Newsnight that Yates had "defined in a very narrow way what he is going to look at, and then gives a report that everything is OK".
WHY WAS PRESCOTT NOT INFORMED?
Assistant Commissioner Yates said yesterday that was no evidence that John Prescott's mobile phone had been tapped.
The Daily Mail reports that it was not Prescott's phone that was tapped - but that of a close female friend. News of the World reporters were allegedly seeking to hear messages he might have left her.
WILL THE DPP EXAMINE THE GUARDIAN'S REVELATIONS?
Yes. Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, said yesterday he would launch an urgent review of the evidence relating to phone hacking gathered by police during the investigation of Goodman and Mulcaire, and given to the Crown Prosecution Service at the time.
Starmer said: "In the light of the fresh allegations... I have ordered an urgent examination of the material supplied to the CPS by the police."
He was taking this action "to satisfy myself and assure the public that the appropriate actions were taken". He said the evidence was extensive and complex, "but it has all been located and a small team is rapidly working through it... It will necessarily take some time. I am only too aware of the need for urgency."
WILL THE COMMONS SELECT COMMITTEE RECONVENE?Yes. The Commons media select committee will reconvene as early as next week and will order News International executives to "clarify" what they knew about malpractice by News of the World reporters. John Whittingdale, select committee chairman, said he was particularly keen to question Les Hinton, former chairman of News International, who told a previous select committee hearing that Goodman had been acting alone. Yesterday's Guardian report claims that Goodman was one of many reporters who resorted to phone-tapping.
The select committee is also likely to call evidence from Rebekah Wade, the outgoing Sun editor who has been promoted to News International chief executive; Stuart Kuttner, the News of the World's outgoing managing editor; Colin Myler, the current News of the World editor - and Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, who is now Tory leader David Cameron's director of communications.
WHERE DOES ANDY COULSON STAND?Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World in January 2007 when his royal reporter Clive Goodman was jailed for phone tapping because he felt that, as the man's boss, he should take responsibility. But Coulson has always denied he knew reporters working for him had hacked into the mobile phones of politicians and celebrities and claimed Goodman was a "one-off" rogue reporter. That claim has been called into question by the Guardian's report.
David Cameron, who controversially took Coulson on as director communications for the Tory party following his resignation from the NoW, continued to stick by his man yesterday, saying Coulson "does an excellent job in a proper, upright way". But as The First Post's Mole reports today, many in Westminster believe Cameron's loyalty is misplaced.WHAT ABOUT REBEKAH WADE?Bizarrely, Rebekah Wade, editor of the Sun, enters the picture today not as a perpetrator but as a victim. According to a report by the BBC's business editor Robert Peston, Wade was among 75 people identified by police as having had phone messages monitored by Mulcaire, while she was running the News of the World's sister paper.
Wade, recently promoted to chief executive of News International, was told by police at the time of their investigation into Mulcaire and Goodman, but declined to press charges.
Peston suggests in his blog that the monitoring of Wade's messages further increases the embarrassment for Coulson because they are supposed to be friends. He followed her into the editor's chair at the News of the World when she was promoted to edit the Sun in 2003.
WHAT DOES NEWS INTERNATIONAL HAVE TO SAY?
News International said yesterday it would not "shirk from vigorously defending our right and proper role to expose wrongdoing". It said it was prevented by "confidentiality obligations from discussing certain allegations made in the Guardian newspaper".
Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, said: "We note that News International has not contested any part of the Guardian coverage including the central assertion that the company had paid a record £1m to ensure secrecy over damages paid to victims of illegal phone-hacking." ·
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