Just how many mainstream publications act illegally to get the next scoop?
Twenty-four hours after Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s communications chief and former News of the World editor, was forced to resign, a lawyer confirmed other newspapers were facing legal claims.
Mark Lewis, who acted for Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association in a damages claim against the NoW, confirmed to the Observer that he was now representing four people who believe they were targeted by other newspapers.
Lewis said that none of the four had been hacked by News Group Newspapers, owner of the News of the World and the Sun. “Lots of people were doing it,” Lewis said. “It was such a widespread practice.”
He added that he had been preparing the cases since Christmas. “We are at an initial stage in our investigations made with police forces and phone companies. But we believe there is a prima facie case that information has been obtained unlawfully.
“This was almost kids’ playtime. It was such a widespread practice. Although it is a crime, people were regarding it as though it was driving at 35mph in a 30mph zone, that you just sort of do it and hope you don’t get caught.”
Speculation about further law suits, and the prospect of fresh evidence in the form of emails and audio tapes stretching back over years, has heaped pressure on News Group over the past few weeks. It emerged earlier this month that News of the World executive Ian Edmondson had been suspended as a result of claims in a case brought by actress Sienna Miller.
Police subsequently wrote to the newspaper asking for any new evidence staff had on the case.
The allegations have come at a critical time for News Group’s parent company, News Corp, which is trying to win regulatory approval for its bid to take full control of BSkyB, the pay TV company. The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is likely to decide early next month whether to refer its bid to the Competition Commission.
There is speculation that News Corp executives were keen to see Coulson quit, amid fears that his continued presence inside No 10 was damaging the company’s commercial interests.
Last week executives, including the editors of Murdoch’s four British papers, held a three-day meeting at Babington House in Somerset about the future of the company, aware that Murdoch is flying into London this week at a crucial time. “I’d be amazed if they didn’t discuss Coulson,” said a source with some knowledge of the meeting. Coulson still has close links with the company and enjoys friendly relations with key executives.