The News of the World (NoW) phone-hacking scandal has come under fresh scrutiny after the defunct paper’s Farrer & Co lawyer allegedly asked that two solicitors acting on behalf of phone-hacking victims be put under surveillance.
Mishcon de Reya media lawyer Charlotte Harris and Taylor Hampton solicitor advocate Mark Lewis were both purportedly followed by private investigator Derek Webb of private investigations firm Silent Shadow.
Farrers contentious media partner Julian Pike, who is no longer instructed by News International on phone-hacking matters, allegedly sanctioned the surveillance citing suspicions that Harris and Lewis were “an item” and that they were sharing confidential information.
According to a report on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Pike wrote to Webb saying: “I write to confirm my instruction… If we can show Lewis and Harris living together we think this may assist us bringing professional misconduct proceedings against Lewis and/or Harris.”
Lewis has subsequently given an interview to the Australian media that he is considering bringing a civil action against Farrers.
Farrers told Newsnight that it would not be able to comment without the permission of News Group Newspapers.
Lewis represents high-profile phone-hacking victims including the family of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler. He previously won a substantial payout for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PPA) chief executive Gordon Taylor. Harris has represented actress Leslie Ash and her former footballer husband Lee Chapman as well as football agent Sky Andrew.
At the time of the alleged surveillance, both were considered to be a threat to the now defunct NoW because they were leading proceedings on behalf of phone-hacking victims.
Speaking on Newsnight, Lewis condemned the spying, which included the following and filming of his ex-wife and his teenage daughter on a shopping trip.
“To follow my teenage daughter, my youngest daughter, is nothing short of sick,” he said. “On another level looking at me, that’s not how you litigate, you play the ball you don’t play the man…this is Mafia-like,” he added.
Lewis is now reportedly planning to sue News International in relation to the surveillance.
In a statement, a News International spokesperson said: “News International’s enquiries have led the company to believe that Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris were subject to surveillance. While surveillance is not illegal, it was clearly deeply inappropriate in these circumstances. This action was not condoned by any current executive at the company.”
Pike advised the newspaper group on more than 60 actions relating to phone-hacking, including the claim from Taylor at the PPA (20 September 2011).
News International chairman James Murdoch will face the Parliamentary Select Committee carrying out the inquiry into phone-hacking again this Thursday. He is advised by Clifford Chance’s global head of litigation and dispute resolution Jeremy Sandelson (16 September 2011).