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Celebrities consider legal action against Murdoch tabloid

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-07-10

High-profile figures in the UK are considering legal action after a British newspaper accused the country's top-selling Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, of widespread illegal phone tapping.

After the media frenzy in the UK fuelled by politicians abusing expenses, journalists from Britain's biggest-selling Sunday tabloid now find themselves in the spotlight after allegations of widespread phone hacking have emerged.


Celebrities and high-profile figures from the sporting world allegedly had their phones hacked by News of the World journalists, according to left-leaning broadsheet the Guardian.


They are now considering private legal action against the paper - a flagship title in Rupert Murdoch's media empire - after police said they would not re-open investigations which saw one reporter jailed in 2007.


Prince William's aides were hacked


In 2007, the tabloid's then royal editor, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glen Mulcaire, were jailed after the phone messages of aides to Prince William were illegally accessed.


But the Guardian has subsequently claimed that the phone tapping was much more widespread.


The newspaper claimed that actress Gwyneth Paltrow, singer George Michael, ex-England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and former deputy prime minister John Prescott were among the other celebrities whose messages were intercepted.


The Guardian also alleged Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson and former England captain Alan Shearer had their phones tapped by investigators for the paper.

Both men are believed to have left messages - that were allegedly hacked - on the mobile phone of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.


Taylor was paid more than £700,000 in damages and costs by the News of the World’s owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News Group, to settle his legal action without a public hearing.


Private investigators working for the News of the World, according to the Guardian, obtained the four-digit access codes to access celebrities' mobile phone message boxes, but there was no evidence that they succeeded in listening in to calls.

Lawyers are approached


A media lawyer said at least two public figures had contacted him seeking advice about taking action against the newspaper, which sells 2.9 million copies each Sunday.


Mark Stephens, of London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said other lawyers had also been approached.

"At the moment it's fair to say that people are looking at their options, they want to see what is going on," he told AFP.

He said legal action could result in payouts of more than half a million pounds per individual.

The News of the World's editor at the time the phone-tapping was said to have taken place, Andy Coulson, is now the communications chief for the main opposition Conservative Party.

Conservative leader David Cameron has stood by Coulson, saying Friday his job was safe because his work for the party "has been completely beyond reproach".

British police have so far refused to re-open its investigation following these new allegations, but the director of public prosecutions has ordered a review of evidence.


News International responds


News International, the parent company of the News of the World, told FRANCE 24 there was “no evidence” to support the allegations made by the Guardian newspaper.
The company said that apart from the Mulcaire and Goodman proceedings and litigation last year concerning Gordon Taylor, there was nothing to substantiate allegations that “News of the World journalists have accessed the voicemails of any individual”, or “have instructed private investigators or other third parties to access the voicemails of any individuals.”

News International added that the Guardian’s “irresponsible and unsubstantiated allegations… are false.”

Date created : 2009-07-10