Fresh 'victims' spell trouble for Murdoch

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The Independent Online

The phone hacking scandal engulfing the News of the World is set to cost the newspaper's parent company tens of millions of pounds in legal fees and settlement bills after more celebrities announced they would be suing the title over the weekend.

Paul Gascoigne, the former England footballer, became the latest to begin legal proceedings, alleging he was one of the victims of the hacking carried out by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator, on behalf of the paper.

His solicitor, Gerald Shamash, said formal legal action would probably begin this week. "It's well-documented [Mr Gascoigne] has been doing all he can to get his life back on an even keel and if ultimately, people have been making a profit from him, we would want to see some redress," Mr Shamash told the BBC yesterday.

"If you're having private conversations and then those private conversations are spread across newspapers, it doesn't help you."

Friends of Gascoigne, who has suffered from depression as well as drink and drug problems, said his mental wellbeing had been affected by the thought that his private phone messages may have been intercepted.

Steve Coogan, the actor and comedian, has also lodged proceedings. Chris Tarrant, the television presenter, and Kieren Fallon, the jockey, are thought to be next in line to sue, as the number of high-profile figures taking on Rupert Murdoch's media empire continues to grow. News International has already accrued a hefty bill from the cases brought against it. PR specialist Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers' Association, are thought to have been paid £1m and £700,000 respectively after the company decided to settle.

Further payouts seem likely as the company attempts to limit the damage inflicted by the row. Sky Andrew, the sports agent, Sienna Miller, the actress, and Andy Gray, the Sky Sports commentator, have already started the process of suing over alleged phone hacking. News International's head of legal, Tom Crone, has said the settlements were advised by him and his legal team, before being agreed by James Murdoch, son of Rupert and the company's chief executive. Five legal firms are now involved in bringing actions against the News of the World.

The situation will also increase pressure on Andy Coulson, the title's former editor, who resigned after the original court case in 2007. He is now the Prime Minister's head of communications. Downing Street denied reports that Mr Coulson had offered to resign over the scandal, which has continued to rumble on despite his claim that he was not aware the illegal hacking was taking place.

Some lawyers have placed Mulcaire's legal costs at more than £500,000, leading to speculation as to who was paying the bill. However, sources close to the former private detective described this figure as "wildly inflated". His lawyer, Sarah Webb, has suggested she does not know who is paying the bills, while News International has refused to comment.

Mulcaire, who was jailed for six months in January 2007 for hacking into the voicemails of members of the Royal household and stars including Elle Macpherson, is under huge pressure to reveal further details about what he did. Eleven people are taking legal action against him and his appeal is expected to be resolved in May.

Scotland Yard has revealed that the mobile phone PIN numbers of 91 people were found among material seized from Mulcaire. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is currently conducting a "comprehensive assessment" of all the case material.

The News of the World has always maintained the practice of phone hacking was down to one rogue reporter – its royal editor, Clive Goodman. He was also convicted and jailed in 2007. A spokeswoman said: "We will, of course, co-operate fully with any inquiries relating to the assessment by the CPS."