8 September 2010 | By Katy Dowell
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A handful of lawyers is working its way through the tangled web that is the alleged phone hacking scandal to have engulfed the News of the World (NoW).
But there is one lawyer in particular who has led the way in the legal fight against the tabloid: Taylor Hampton consultant Mark Lewis.
In June 2008 Lewis secured the first settlement from the NoW over the alleged phone hacking, acting for Profession Footballers Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor.
Lewis had come into contact with Taylor as a partner with Manchester firm George Davies Solicitors. The firm was a long-standing legal adviser to the PFA and worked closely with its general counsel Jo Armstrong.
Glen Mulcaire, the private investigator who was paid by the NoW’s royal correspondent to hack Prince Harry’s phone calls, had also admitted hacking into messages left by Armstrong on Taylor’s phone.
That claim settled in the same week that Collyer Bristow partner Dominic Crossley secured a £60,000 payout for then Formula One chief Max Mosley. According to reports, Lewis secured a £700,000 settlement for Taylor from the tabloid, which had originally instructed Farrer & Co partner Julian Pike to have the claim struck out.
Lewis also reportedly secured a further £100,000 for Armstrong and there’s a chance he could have done the same for Clifford had he not been otherwise engaged. Clifford instead turned to Lewis’s former assistant, lawyer Charlotte Harris, who quit George Davies Solicitors to join Manchester-based JMW Solicitors in October 2008.
Harris had worked on Taylor’s claim before leaving the firm and then secured Clifford as a client. Clifford settled his claim against the newspaper, but Harris continues to represent sports agent Sky Andrew and several MPs, including former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik.
Lewis, meanwhile, says he has clients lining up to make claims against a number of newspaper conglomerates including News International. He is not alone.
Schillings partner John Kelly, who recently won a privacy case against the NoW for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, says he has several clients waiting to launch proceedings, including sports pundit Andy Gray.
Berwin Leighton Paisner partner Graham Shear, who was instructed to act for footballer Ashley Cole in his divorce from Cheryl Cole (27 May 2010) also said he had been instructed but warned that celebrity clients were extremely wary of taking legal action against powerful tabloids, adding that while he has received instructions, many cases have settled.
This is perhaps why Crossley (who represented Mosley) has teamed up with Bindmans partner Tamsin Allen to apply for a judicial review into Scotland Yard’s original investigation into the phone hacking case.
Crossley has been instructed by former deputy prime minister John Prescott to pursue the issue, while Allen has been instructed by former Met commander Brian Paddick, MP Chris Bryant and freelance journalist Brendan Montague.
Some lawyers involved with the private claims are sceptical of such a move. One said: “They’re seeking a public order that people should’ve been notified by the police if their phones were tapped. It’s a lovely claim, but it’s really difficult because it has a public law aim.”
Allen disagrees: “My clients have been planning this for some time. We decided to take a different approach to the case and we thought this would be an interesting way to do it. Our clients want to know what happened and most of the privacy cases are settling with confidentiality clauses.”
Crossley adds: “This is much more public spirited, they want to find out why this wholesale invasion of privacy was not revealed [by police].”
The whole saga is far from over with MPs promising to hold an inquiry. Lawyers have warned that the alleged phone hacking, which is vehemently denied by NoW and its parent News International, is common practice across Fleet Street, but with claims being settled with confidentiality clauses, it is unlikely the public will ever know the real extent of the tactics.