In the past year, the now-closed News of the World newspaper has been accused of bribing police officers and hacking cell phones. July’s revelations that News of the World hacked the voice mail of a murdered teenager, the newspaper’s parent company’s decision to close the 168-year-old paper, and Parliament interviews of News Corp. executives seemed to be just the tip of News of the World’s problems.
Indeed, it continues to get worse. The Guardian reported Nov. 7 in an “exclusive” that News of the World management “hired a specialist private investigator to run covert surveillance on two of the lawyers representing phone-hacking victims as part of an operation to put pressure on them to stop their work.” Further, the Guardian questioned if this investigator was to blackmail those lawyers with information from the surveillance. Likewise, the BBC reported that unnamed sources claim the spying was to collect information to “discredit” one of the attorneys.
The Guardian claimed that the private investigator, Derek Webb, followed and taped attorneys Mark Lewis, Charlotte Harris and their families “during the past 18 months.” Those lawyers “separately…represented Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford, the first two hacking victims to sue the company for hacking their phones.” Lewis also has represented the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered teenager whose phone was hacked by News of the World.
The Guardian reported that Webb started to “gather evidence on Lewis” in spring 2010 and part of this included his “secretly” taping his ex-wife and daughter. Earlier this year, “Webb was hired to spy on Harris,” specifically to dig up if Harris was having an affair, the Guardian reported.
According to the Guardian, Webb “targeted” the two lawyers, along with “other investigators.” Webb was first hired by the newspaper eight years ago.
The BBC reported Nov. 8 that Lewis has announced he is suing for invasion of privacy.
Further, the BBC noted that Lewis claimed “he had seen documents that showed politicians, including the Labour MP Tom Watson – a key figure in the Commons’ phone-hacking inquiries – were also under surveillance” by News of the World.
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News International commented on the claims that it hired an investigator to follow and spy on the lawyers “deeply inappropriate” and “not condoned by any current executives,” according to the BBC Note: In July 2011, former CEO of News International Rebekah Brooks said phone hacking wasn’t “condoned” and yet there are potentially 5,795 phone hacking victims. Also note that a few News Corp executives have stepped down this year, including Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton, Brooks and Wall Street Journal Europe publisher Andrew Langhoff (after accusations of conflict of interest and not phone hacking or bribery).
According to a Nov. 8 Guardian report, Webb admitted that News of the World hired him “to follow more than 90 targets including Prince William,” Daniel Radcliffe’s parents, Prince Harry’s former girlfriend Chelsy Davy, and others. Webb defended his actions, claiming that he never broke the law. The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade commented on this defense that “covert surveillance” isn’t illegal. In a Nov. 9 blogpost, Greenslade questioned “whether stalking — for that is what it is — is an ethical activity for a newspaper to engage in.”
However, Webb noted News of the World “failed to compensate him in July,” when the newspaper closed. A former News of the World editor, Jules Stenson, disputed Webb’s account of events claiming he had a “grievance” because he hadn’t been paid, according to the Guardian.