Mirror Group faces further investigation into phone-hacking

Emails suggest interception was used routinely

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The Independent Online

Lawyers acting for victims of phone hacking carried out or ordered by journalists at Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) want deeper trawls of the company’s databases after emails were discovered which they argue provide further evidence that voicemail interception was used routinely in the group’s newsrooms.

The requests follow the disclosure of an exchange between two MGN journalists discussing how a celebrity relationship could be confirmed. One had suggested that there “might be something interesting on their phones”.

Last month, the group admitted that illegal voicemail interceptions had occurred in its newsrooms and that compensation would be paid to 10 victims. MGN had previously denied all hacking allegations for almost three years.

The company has also been co-operating with the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Golding, by handing over evidence that could be connected to potential wrong-doing. Among the material given to the Met, and subsequently disclosed to victims’ lawyers, is a bundle of 22 emails, a cache of 587 calls from MGN landlines, and 51 invoices from private investigators which relate to four hacking claims.

One internal email sent by an MGN journalist to a colleague in March 2002 concerns information on the relationship between two former EastEnders actors, Lucy Benjamin and Steve McFadden. The two were in an off-screen relationship at that time.

 

MGN, owned by Trinity Mirror, now also accepts that 11 articles relating to Lucy Benjamin (also known as Lucy Taggart) were likely to have involved hacking.

Although the company has redacted most of the emails handed over, to protect journalistic sources, the 2002 email states: “Also looks like Lucy Benjamin and Steve McFadden are still together – but might be something interesting on their phones.”

Another email from an MGN journalist dated July 2004, which is heavily redacted, states: “Jessie Wallace. Shane Richie”, before adding: “telephone hacking”. Ms Wallace and Mr Richie were both EastEnders actors at the time.

The only electronically generated document disclosed also relates to Mr Richie. The stored document written by an MGN journalist is entitled “Hitlist” and adds the name “Shane Richie”.

In a civil hearing this week, Jeremy Reed, counsel for the victims, argued that if the keyword searches of MGN databases were widened to include other terms, the searches might deliver “if not the Crown Jewels, then some valuable nuggets”.

During the hearing, Mr Justice Mann ordered MGN to give the victims’ lawyers copies of four files containing expenses claims filed by the group’s journalists for disposable mobile phones. Dan Evans, a former MGN and News of the World journalist, said pay-as-you-go phones were used by MGN journalists to hack phones. MGN has said it will not be challenging his evidence. Matthew Nicklin QC, representing Trinity Mirror, told the court MGN would not hand over the files pending an appeal. MGN has until 4 pm on Monday to comply.