The private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who hacked voicemails on behalf of the News of the World, is suing Rupert Murdoch's News International to force it to continue paying his legal fees.
The former amateur footballer, who was jailed in 2007 for intercepting the voicemails of celebrities, filed a High Court complaint yesterday after the company announced on 20 July that it would end a two-year arrangement to pay his lawyers.
At his appearance last month before MPs, Mr Murdoch's son James said he was "very surprised" to learn that NI was still paying the legal fees of a convicted criminal. It emerged this week that the company had so far paid £246,000 to fund Mr Mulcaire's representation in dozens of current lawsuits at the High Court.
Mr Mulcaire, who said he had been placed under "relentless pressure" by the now defunct Sunday tabloid, is claiming that NI has a contractual obligation to pay his legal bills. The private investigator has been a key figure in the phone hacking scandal since it emerged in 2006 that he had worked with the disgraced royal reporter Clive Goodman to eavesdrop on the messages of members of the royal household. Allegations have since emerged that he was also being commissioned by senior NOTW executives.
Mr Mulcaire was employed on a rolling contract worth at least £105,000 a year and received £80,000 as well as £5,000 in legal fees as a severance package from NI after his conviction. A spokesman for NI said the company would 'vigorously contest' the legal action.
The lawsuit came as the actress Leslie Chapman and her husband, the former footballer Lee Chapman, announced they had settled their legal claim against the NOTW for phone hacking and were now considering action against other, unnamed newspapers.
The settlement, reportedly for a "healthy six-figure sum", follows claims that the newspaper eavesdropped on voicemails left by her sons while she was critically ill in hospital in 2003 with a form of the MRSA superbug.