Tory peer with MS among final wave of hacking litigants

'News of the World' allegedly wanted to prove his condition was alcohol-related

A former Conservative minister with multiple sclerosis who was allegedly hacked by the News of the World because they mistook his condition for excessive drinking is suing the Murdoch-owned newspaper group.

David Maclean, created a life peer in 2010 as Lord Blencathra, is among the latest tranche high-profile figures to launch civil actions against News International (NI).

A former MP, he was a whip in Margaret Thatcher's government and a Home Office minister in John Major's administration. He is among the estimated 130 names in a new list of hacking victims who have lodged claims against NI at the High Court.

Mr Justice Vos, the judge hearing the second wave of civil actions, set yesterday as a cut-off date for the latest claims. A trial date is expected to be announced soon for May next year.

Other names in the second tranche include the TV actress and former EastEnders star, Tamzin Outhwaite and the Cold Feet star James Nesbitt.

News International settled hacking claims with 50 victims earlier this year, including the Welsh singer Charlotte Church and the actor Steve Coogan.

It was announced this week that Hugh Grant, a prominent hacking campaigner, along with Ms Church's family priest, Father Richard Reardon, are also suing NI. Fr Reardon is the first religious figure to lodge a hacking claim. Other high-profile names who have also initiated legal action against the now-defunct tabloid include Cherie Blair QC, the Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, and the former pop star, Kerry Katona.

Commenting on the cut-off date, Steven Heffer, the solicitor who has led a substantial number of hacking cases, said, "We are about to learn one way or another who will be going down the litigation route."

Lord Blencathra announced in 2003 that he had been suffering from multiple sclerosis since 1996. The neurological condition can lead to mobility and balance problems, and muscle weakness.

The Independent has learnt that a number of prominent names who were expected to lodge actions this week, have decided to avoid the publicity that usually comes with a high-profile court action.Legal sources claim NI is currently involved in a series of private negotiations aimed at settling hacking claims without using public courts in London or their own in-house compensation scheme.

The Metropolitan Police has had close to 400 recent enquiries from individuals seeking to learn if their phones were targeted and illegally accessed by the NOTW.

Despite the substantial number of individuals who have been contacted by Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting – the unit investigating hacking – the Met's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Sue Akers, told the Commons last week that out of 4,744 potential victims identified in evidence, only 2,500 have been formally contacted so far.

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