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Lawyer says British phone hacking scandal could spread to U.S.

April 12, 2012 |  8:07 am

James Murdoch of British Sky Broadcasting

LONDON -- The British phone hacking scandal that resulted in scores of arrests and the July closing of the popular tabloid News of the World could spread to the United States, a media lawyer who represents several victims said Thursday.

Attorney Mark Lewis said inquiries by British police into illegal phone interceptions by the tabloid were widening and he would be seeking documentation in the U.S. on behalf of three of his clients, who he said were victims of illegal phone interceptions.

The tabloid is owned by News International, the British branch of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

“The cases I am pursuing were by the News of the World against people who were in the U.S. at the time they were hacked or were U.S. citizens,” he said in a email to The Times sent while he was en route to the airport. 

“The scandal is not just confined to the United Kingdom or U.K. companies,” he told the BBC, “but this goes to the heartland of News Corp. and we will be looking at the involvement of the parent company and in terms of claims there and that is something that I think will be taken more seriously by investors and shareholders in News Corp.”

He also said that of his three clients, whom he declined to identify, one had connections to Hollywood, another to the late Princess Diana and the third to English national soccer.

The hacking scandal intensified last July with revelations that journalists on Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid had been hacking into the mobile phone of slain teenager Milly Dowler and her family in 2003 in search of scoops. The subsequent outcry prompted Murdoch to close the publication and public officials to launch police investigations and inquiries into media practices. 

The octogenarian Murdoch and his son James both appeared before a parliamentary panel but said they had no knowledge of phone hacking beyond one rogue reporter and a private investigator, both of whom served jail sentences for hacking into the phones of the British royal family in 2007. Their claims were later disputed by News of the World executives.   

James Murdoch recently quit as chairman of the satellite TV station BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting) after his resignation in February as chief executive of News International.

The Murdochs have pledged and paid out millions of dollars in compensation in dozens of out-of-court settlements. Phone hacking victims include celebrities such as actor Jude Law, singer Charlotte Church, former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, friends of the British royal family as well as crime victims and people associated with them.

Police and parliamentary panels and a civil inquiry looking into media practices have resulted in more than 40 arrests of media executives, government officials and journalists and prompted the resignation of several high-ranking police officials.


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 -- Janet Stobart

Photo: James Murdoch recently announced that he would resign as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting. Credit: British Sky Broadcasting