Lawyers have said they are fighting or preparing cases on behalf of 115 public figures who suspect, claim or have been officially informed that their mobile phones were hacked by people working for the News of the World, The Independent can reveal today.
In an intensification of legal action, 70 high-profile individuals have demanded police disclose any evidence the Sunday tabloid intercepted their private messages, while 45 have launched or are intending to launch civil proceedings against its owner News International for alleged breach of privacy.
The cases – which include 12 actions already brought by public figures before the High Court – come amid a widening of the police operation into suspected hacking by a private investigator working for the News of the World (NotW).
In the past week detectives heading a new Scotland Yard inquiry have informed people previously given the all-clear they may have been targeted by Glenn Mulcaire. He was jailed for six months and the NotW's Royal Editor Clive Goodman for four months in 2007 for accessing hundreds of phone messages left on the phones of aides to Princes William and Harry.
However, police brought no further prosecutions, despite finding Mr Mulcaire in possession of 4,332 names or partial names of people, 2,978 mobile phone numbers and 91 PIN codes changed from default settings.
As a result, figures from showbusiness, politics and sport have been contacting lawyers seeking to establish whether they were hacked and whether they can obtain redress from Britain's biggest newspaper group.
The cases could prove highly expensive to Rupert Murdoch's media empire, given that NotW settled three actions for around £1.5m, including a reported £1m payment to the publicist Max Clifford and £700,000 to Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association.
They also threaten to cause News International months of bad publicity as Mr Murdoch seeks Government approval for a £7.8bn takeover bid for the country's largest commercial broadcaster, BSkyB.
Charlotte Harris, a media lawyer recruited by Mishcon de Reya in London, has told The Independent that she has sought information from police on behalf of 30 clients, including Leslie Ash and her husband Lee Chapman, 15 of which she expects to "take forward." John Kelly, a litigation expert at Schillings in London – who represents comedian Steve Coogan and former footballer Andy Gray – has made 20 requests to police for information.
Graham Shear, a partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner, has not issued proceedings but is preparing eight civil actions against News International (NI). He said: "I think I will probably end up with more than 10 cases that will be run and look like viable actions."
Mark Lewis, who obtained Mr Taylor's settlement and who is fighting a case for his former deputy Mick McGuire, has sent letters of action to NI on behalf of the TV presenter Chris Tarrant and jockey Kieren Fallon, and has asked police for evidence on six individuals including the former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson.
Mr Lewis is personally suing the Metropolitan Police over its questioning of his evidence to MPs that a policeman had told him that "something like 6,000 people" had their messages intercepted or messages hacked.
He told The Independent: "It's important to remember that the number of victims [so far] relates to a police inquiry about one newspaper between 2005 and 2006. In reality this has been going on for much longer and in many newspapers. The number of victims must be in the tens of thousands."
In a planned judicial review, lawyer Tamsin Allen is arguing the Metropolitan Police's failure to give evidence about hacking to four claimaints including John Prescott breached their human rights. She said: "I have another 10 or so who have sought information from police, and around 6 to 10 who are considering privacy claims against News International."
Gerald Shamash, of Steel & Shamash, is taking action on behalf of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spokesman and ex-England footballer Paul Gascoigne.
News International declined to comment on the cases, but said: "News International has made it very clear that if we find or are presented with evidence of wrongdoing we will act, as evidenced by recent events."