News Corp 'hacked phones on US soil' – so were these three the intended targets?

Lawyer who represented News of the World victims in Britain turns sights on paper's parent company

James Cusick
Thursday 12 April 2012 19:19
David Beckham, Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell and actor Jude Law are rumoured to be targets
David Beckham, Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell and actor Jude Law are rumoured to be targets

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is facing new hacking battles in the United States. The British lawyer who helped expose the criminal culture inside the News of the World has revealed plans to file at least three separate lawsuits on behalf of clients who claim their phones were hacked while they were on US soil.

Lawyers in California and New York are being lined up by Mark Lewis – who represented the parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler – in three individual cases expected to be filed against News Corp in the next few weeks.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mr Lewis also revealed that his US legal targets includes the Murdoch empire's corporate arm, with a further suit centred on what he claimed were "the dirty tricks that might have been used in order to further the commercial aims for News Corporation".

Although no specifics have been given for what is claimed will be three high-profile cases, there is already speculation that Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell, the former England football captain David Beckham, and an associate of the leading actor Jude Law, may be have been potential victims hacked in the US.

Mr Lewis would only say that the cases which will be brought "imminently" are connected to the royal household and Princess Diana, with another alleged victim connected to England's national football team, and the third a "Hollywood case in which the alleged victim was in contact with a top celebrity".

At least one of the cases, according to Mr Lewis, involves allegations that the phone of a US citizen was illegally accessed.

In his lengthy legal fights with News International in the UK, Mr Lewis has proved an awkward and difficult opponent. He was instrumental in exposing the lie behind News International's repeated claim that phone hacking at the NOTW was confined to "one rogue reporter".

Recently, after News International avoided the embarrassment of a high-profile court case involving the victims of phone hacking, Mr Lewis promised to "take it [the legal fight] to America".

Opening a US front on phone hacking was first revealed in The Independent in February. The new development indicates that all the expensive legal muscle recently gathered by News Corp could soon be seeing front-line action.

The hiring of former US Justice Department lawyers and a former White House counsel suggests News Corp were anticipating potentially damaging hacking-related challenges coming through the US courts.

The imminent arrival of a home-front hacking scandal will do little for News Corp's brand and the siege mentality it has tried to shake off by settling with the UK-based victims of the NOTW.

News International, Murdoch's UK print business, has been identified as a stress-related component of News Corp's global value. And although no member of the Murdoch family is now at the helm of a UK wing of the media conglomerate, it will be Rupert and his son James, until recently NI's executive chairman, who will be blamed for bringing more bad news to the firm's home turf.

The parliamentary investigation into phone hacking is expected to deliver its report before the summer. James Murdoch's role in failing to address the issue of wrongdoing inside Wapping, or worse being potentially part of a cover-up, was already an issue worrying the News Corp board.

The clean-up inside News International is already being examined by the US Department of Justice.