A former lawyer for News Corp.’s U.K. unit told British lawmakers he saw an internal dossier of personal information about phone-hacking victims’ lawyers prepared for the company by a “freelance journalist.”
Tom Crone, the lawyer for News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid until July, told a Parliamentary committee in London today that he is barred from saying who at the paper requested the data due to an ongoing police investigation.
“I saw one thing in relation to two of the lawyers,” Crone said. “It involves their private lives.” Using private detectives for surveillance is a common practice for lawyers, Crone said in response to a related question from the committee.
Mark Lewis, a lawyer for the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and dozens of other phone-hacking victims, said yesterday that he had seen the dossier and that its contents suggested he’d been followed. Revelations that Dowler’s voice mails were intercepted prompted News Corp. to shutter the News of the World and withdraw a 7.8 billion-pound ($12.4 billion) takeover bid for British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
News Corp.’s News International unit said in a statement on Sept. 3 that no “current” officials at the company were involved in having the civil claimants’ lawyers followed while the company defended dozens of claims over the hacking of celebrities’ mobile phones.
“This could be very damaging,” Niri Shan, the head of media law at Taylor Wessing LLP in London, said in an interview. “It begs the question -- why did they do it and who on earth thought it was a good idea, given the allegations against them?”
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said today that it’s legal to hire a private investigator to follow someone. He declined to comment on Crone’s statement.
Civil lawsuits filed by Lewis and other lawyers for public figures unearthed evidence of News of the World’s phone-hacking activities and forced the police to reopen their investigation of the practice. At least 15 people have been arrested since January, including former editors and reporters.
Lewis, with Taylor Hampton Solicitors Ltd. in London, said News International’s dossier about him contained some inaccurate information, including a claim that he was dying.
The committee also published a written statement by London law firm BCL Burton Copeland, which worked for News International when the scandal erupted in 2006 and 2007. The firm, which parted ways with the company this year, said its role was limited to providing documents to the police.
“BCL was not instructed to carry out an investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World,” the law firm said in the letter.
Burton Copeland is the second law firm to challenge claims they conducted internal investigations of phone hacking after lawmakers asked News International to explain why it failed to uncover the extent of the practice.
Harbottle & Lewis LLP, which worked for News International in a 2007 employment case related to hacking, said in earlier written statements to the committee that News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch was “confused or misinformed” when he testified about the firm’s actions to British lawmakers.
Harbottle & Lewis’s examination was limited to reviewing e-mails in relation to an employment lawsuit filed by Clive Goodman, a reporter convicted for hacking into voice mails, Jon Chapman, News International’s former head of legal affairs, told lawmakers.
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