News of the World hacked phones 'to steal stories from rivals'

Cahal Milmoand Martin Hickman
Thursday 03 February 2011 01:00

Phone hacking was allegedly used by the News of the World to obtain a story which rival titles had already obtained via the more traditional Fleet Street tactic of a paid-for "kiss and tell", according to newly disclosed High Court documents.

Lawyers taking action on behalf of Nicola Phillips, a former employee of the publicist Max Clifford, have lodged a claim against the Sunday tabloid that it illegally accessed her voicemails in 2006 to get details of an exposé on a relationship between the actor Ralph Fiennes and a Romanian singer, Cornelia Crisan.

The alleged hacking, which it is claimed allowed the NotW to print a similar story to that only obtained by the Sunday Mirror and The Mail on Sunday after paying Ms Crisan some £35,000, is the latest evidence that the practice was used to monitor the activities of journalists and publicists, as well as public figures and celebrities.

The former NotW editor Phil Hall, who now works as a public relations consultant, said last night that he had been approached by clients who believed they may have been targeted, including David Davies, the Football Association executive who this week confirmed he had begun legal action over alleged hacking.

Mr Clifford, who has been at the heart of the tabloid scoop industry for more than 30 years, reached a settlement worth a reputed £1m with Rupert Murdoch's News International last year. The payment meant that evidence alleging phone hacking by the NotW was not heard at the High Court.

Ms Phillips's case, which will be back before the High Court in London later this month, alleges that the NotW found out about her negotiations on behalf of Ms Crisan by unlawfully accessing messages left on her phone and those of contacts, including journalists on rival titles, according to The New York Times.

It is claimed that after obtaining information from the voicemails, the NotW contacted Ms Crisan on a train travelling from London to Edinburgh and was able to produce its own story about her claimed two-year affair with Mr Fiennes.

Last month Ian Edmondson was sacked as head of news at the Sunday paper after the discovery of "significant new information" relating to hacking. Pages from notebooks seized by police from the home of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones of aides to Prince William, feature the name "Ian" on records relating to Ms Phillips, according to the court documents. Mr Mulcaire and Mr Edmondson, who has denied any wrongdoing, are named as co-defendants on the claim. News International declined to comment on the claims.

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