For the first time, The Sun newspaper was last night dragged into the phone-hacking scandal after it emerged that the actor Jude Law is suing Rupert Murdoch's best-selling daily title over the alleged interception of his voicemails while Rebekah Brooks was editor.
News International (NI) confirmed the lawsuit by Law after being approached on Thursday by The Independent with evidence that the suit, filed at the High Court in London last month, made phone-hacking allegations against The Sun rather than the now-defunct News of the World.
The claim for breach of privacy and confidence is the first time that The Sun has been named in civil proceedings brought by public figures who were targeted by the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
The case will cause alarm among NI executives that its sole remaining red-top brand faces being tainted by the scandal, which last week led to the closure of the 168-year-old NOTW.
The Sun last night issued a forceful denial of the claim by Law, describing it as a "deeply cynical and deliberately mischievous" attempt to draw the newspaper into the furore surrounding the alleged interception of voicemails by Mr Mulcaire and News International journalists.
If proven, the lawsuit by Law, whose former fiancée Sienna Miller last month won £100,000 damages and "sincere apologies" from the NOTW for the repeated hacking of her phone, would have been particularly embarrassing to Ms Brooks, who was in charge of The Sun at the time of the alleged voicemail eavesdropping.
The Independent understands that the claim alleges four articles published by The Sun in 2005 and 2006 were based on material obtained from Law's phone.
Ms Brooks, who yesterday resigned as chief executive of NI, became editor of The Sun in 2003 after editing the NOTW during the time when the paper is accused of hacking the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
In a statement, NI said: "We deny completely a legal action by Jude Law against The Sun. We believe this is a deeply cynical and deliberately mischievous attempt to draw The Sun into the phone-hacking issue. The allegations made in this claim have been carefully investigated by our lawyers and the evidence shows that they have no foundation whatsoever."
Law, 38, has become a key figure in efforts by alleged victims of phone hacking to obtain confirmation of the extent of the practice at NI. A separate damages claim brought by the actor against NOTW has been made a "lead case" in the ongoing civil litigation by about 30 public figures, including the former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell and the sports agent Sky Andrew. Many of the civil cases pre-date the launch in January this year of Operation Weeting, the criminal investigation into phone hacking by Scotland Yard.