Olswang advises NotW on all phone-hacking claims

Olswang wins wider role for tabloid publisher as Collyer Bristow is instructed by family of killed serviceman

Dan Tench
Dan Tench

Olswang partner Dan Tench is advising News International on allegations that its Sunday tabloid News of the World (NotW) paid private investigators to hack into numerous mobile phones, including those of the families of 7/7 victims and murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

On Tuesday The Lawyer revealed that the company had snubbed its usual advisers at Farrer & Co and turned instead to Olswang for help drawing up a code of practice in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal (5 July 2011).

Olswang is also a key advisor to The Guardian, the newspaper that has taken the lead on breaking stories about phone hacking. Partner Geraldine Proudler sits on the Guardian Media Group’s Scott Trust board, which is responsible for maintaining the newspaper’s editorial independence and  appointing editors of the newspaper.

This is believed to be the first time News International has formally instructed Olswang. Farrers media disputes head Julian Pike has traditionally been the go-to adviser for the group.

Legal media commentators said instructing lawyers to advise it on all aspects of the allegations is a shrewd move by the newspaper group and it demonstrates how seriously it is taking the allegations.

The Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday called for an enquiry into allegations that the tabloid commissioned private investigators to hack into the phones of victims of serious crime.

This came after the Dowler family’s lawyer, Taylor Hampton partner Mark Lewis, revealed that the family had been contacted by police about the possibility that the tabloid had hacked into their daughter Milly’s phone after she was abducted.

Payne Hicks Beach partner Sarah Webb has been the long-term legal advisor to Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator alleged to have been paid to hack into the schoolgirl’s phone.

Meanwhile, Collyer Bristow partner Steven Heffer has been instructed to act for Rose Gentle, whose son was killed while on active service in Iraq, to investigate whether her phone had been hacked.

In statement he said: “It’s imperative that the families get to the bottom of this issue very quickly as any delay only adds to their grief and suffering. I’m hoping the police will deal with their requests for information quickly and sympathetically.”

Separately, the Metropolitan police yesterday confirmed that the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Matrix Chambers’ Ken Macdonald QC, is acting for the board of News Corporation, the parent group of News International (6 July 2011).

Macdonald is advising the group in relation to allegations it made illegal payments to the police. Criminal firm Hickman & Rose is acting for the news group, with partner Ben Rose instructing Macdonald.

Olswang declined to comment on whether it was advising on the phone-hacking allegations relating to crime victims, but confirmed earlier this week it was acting in relation to the code of practice.

Legal reaction:

Collyer Bristow partner Dominic Crossley: “The revelations currently devouring the News of the World reveal a culture utterly without boundaries. One cannot help being shocked and appalled by each new low, but I’m not surprised. It’s a symptom of an infection that has been exhibited in News of the World journalism for many years and one that has repeatedly been excused, even encouraged, by its competitors. 

“Those with the most influence over our newspapers don’t believe in privacy and do not respect any law – whether civil or criminal – that provide for it. Their view was persuasive in the context of the privacy injunctions sought by a premiere league footballer and a banker earlier this year. 

“Media encouragement saw injunctions defied and the rule of law challenged. Protecting privacy was seen as a national joke. 

“This joke was consistent with the blind eye turned by all newspapers, other than The Independent, to each murky new revelation of phone hacking being revealed by The Guardian. No-one is laughing now. 

“Privacy matters and protecting privacy is a challenge that must be confronted.”

Preiskel & Co head of media David Allen Green: “It’s now looking as if anyone caught up in a significant news story between 2000 and 2010 may well have had their phone hacked by the tabloid press and the private investigators who worked for them. 

“The scandal was initially about members of the Royal Household. Then it became about celebrities, politicians, and media professionals. 

“However, these new allegations move the issue beyond ’other people’ – it could have been any of us, or somebody we knew. 

“The applicable civil and criminal law remains the same, but the situation now seems very different and far more sinister.  There must be an independent judicial inquiry to deal with this sorry and sordid mess.”