Celebrities mull legal action over phone hacking

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 10, 2009 at 9:30 AM EDT

High-profile figures have contacted lawyers after their phones were allegedly hacked by a tabloid newspaper with Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson also targeted, reports said Friday.

The allegations against the News of the World deepened after the Guardian, which broke the original story on Thursday, said Ferguson and former England captain Alan Shearer had their phones tapped by investigators for the paper.

Both men are believed to have left messages on the mobile phone of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of Professional Footballers' Association, who the Guardian said received 700,000 pounds in compensation from the News of the World last year.

The Guardian said Thursday actress Gwyneth Paltrow, singer George Michael, ex-England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and former deputy prime minister John Prescott were among other celebrities whose messages were intercepted.

A media lawyer said he and several barristers and solicitors had been contacted by various public figures seeking advice about suing the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, which sells 2.9 million copies each Sunday.

Mark Stephens, of London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, said: "At the moment it's fair to say that people are looking at their options, they want to see what is going on.

"The first hurdle for any individual is to ascertain whether they were the subject of criminal behaviour or a conspiracy for criminal behaviour.

"That requires them to obtain from the police, the information commissioner or the court details of what was happening."

He said a legal action could result in a payout of more than half a million pounds for each individual.

The News of the World's editor at the time the phone-tapping was said to have taken place, Andy Coulson, is now the communications chief for the main opposition Conservative Party.

Conservative leader David Cameron has stood by Coulson, saying he was doing "an excellent job in a proper, upright way" for the party.

The News of the World's then royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed in 2007 along with a private investigator after the phone messages of aides to Prince William, second in line to the throne, were illegally accessed.

The police has refused to re-open its investigation in the light of the new allegations, but the director of public prosecutions has ordered a review of evidence.

During the trial, private investigator Glen Mulcaire admitted hacking into the phone messages of model Elle Macpherson, celebrity publicist Max Clifford -- a major source of tabloid stories -- and Taylor.

Taylor, who is effectively the head of the footballers' union, subsequently sued the News of the World and received the payoff on condition it remained confidential.

The Guardian says the paper paid a total of a further 300,000 pounds to two other figures from the world of football, but it is unclear whether they were Ferguson and Shearer.

A senior executive from the News of the World's parent company, News International, Les Hinton told a committee of lawmakers in 2007 that he was "absolutely convinced" Goodman was the only person who knew about phone hacking at the paper.

But Coulson resigned after the trial, saying he took "ultimate responsibility."

The private investigators obtained the four-digit access codes to celebrities' mobile phone message boxes, but there was no evidence that they succeeded in listening in to calls, the Guardian said.




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