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Farrer & Co partner Julian Pike, who suggested that client News Group put two phone-hacking lawyers under surveillance, has told a Home Affairs Committee that he would make the same recommendation again in similar circumstances.
Pike, a contentious media lawyer, was instructed by News Group in relation to phone-hacking claims at now-defunct tabloid News of the World (25 July 2011). He was later replaced as adviser by Olswang (17 October 2011).
He has admitted suggesting to his client that it put Mishcon de Reya partner Charlotte Harris and Taylor Hampton solicitor advocate Mark Lewis, who are representing a number of phone-hacking claimants, under surveillance (8 November 2011). They were purportedly followed by private investigator Derek Webb from Silent Shadow.
At today’s committee hearing looking at the use of private investigators, Pike, Grosvenor Law partner Dan Morrison and Bindmans partner Mike Schwarz were quizzed by MPs on why law firms instruct private investigators.
Pike said he had “absolutely not” instructed a private investigator to carry out illegal activity, but that they were used from time to time to trace witnesses, serve court documents, background checks and other time-consuming tasks.
Morrison added that “no law firm or lawyer would instruct a private investigator to do anything unlawful”.
The committee heard that where law firms were instructed in litigation cases such as high value fraud, private investigators were useful to track down where assets had gone, especially when police did not have the resources to carry out a similar role.
The committee then turned to asking about the use of private investigators by the press for people in the public eye.
The issue of Lewis and Harris was raised and Pike defended his position, claiming that surveillance was “entirely appropriate”.
Pike said: “I gave advice to News Group that some surveillance should be carried out in relation to both Mr Lewis and Ms Harris.
“That actual investigation and surveillance was carried out by somebody who the News of the Worldchose to instruct - I had no direct dealings with them at all.
“I instructed one particular agency to do one particular job, which was to look at some public and open documents.
“News of the Worldused an agent who I had no knowledge of whatsoever to carry out the surveillance, which is where I think it went wrong.”
The committee expressed surprise that a firm with Farrers’ reputation would give such advice.
Pike replied: “It’s very unusual and I’ve certainly not had cause to do it before and I hope I don’t have the cause to do it again.
“But in these particular circumstances there was justification for doing it and I would frankly do it again tomorrow if I had the same circumstances.”
Pike was asked to justify why Lewis and Harris were followed.
He said: “I can’t go into the complete detail of this, I’d love to do it. The principle is that over a number of months we had some very serious concerns about breaches of confidentiality and as a result of those concerns we thought it appropriate to do what we did.
“I have no regret about doing that. I totally accept it’s highly unusual but in these particular circumstances it was entirely appropriate.”