Sunday, April 10, 2011

Exclusive: Royals pulled into phone-hacking scandal By James Hanning

 Prince Andrew's daughters are among the latest high-profile figures said to be victims of News International's illegal activities.

                                                                                                                                      ALAN DAVIDSON
Princesses Eugenie (left) and Beatrice with Prince Andrew

 The Royal Family has been pulled into the News International phone-hacking affair, dealing a blow to the latest desperate attempt by Rupert Murdoch's media giant to hide the true extent of the scandal, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice are suspected targets of the media empire's hacking activities, and their father, the Duke of York, has privately expressed exasperation at the apparent breach of his family's privacy. Suspicions that the princesses were targets arose after Eugenie was the subject of an attempted mugging while travelling in Cambodia with a friend two years ago. The attack, in Phnom Penh during the girls' gap year, was thwarted by bodyguards but details of the incident quickly found their way into The Sun newspaper and other News International (NI) publications.
 This is the first instance of the Royal Family being drawn into the phone-hacking row since the conviction of Clive Goodman, the News of the World's royal editor four years ago. Goodman pleaded guilty to intercepting messages left on phones of aides to Princes William and Harry and was jailed for four months. Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator used to carry out the interceptions, was jailed for six months.
 It is understood Prince Andrew, himself the subject of intense media scrutiny, and his ex-wife, the Duchess of York, also believe they were personally targeted. Prince Andrew, though angered by what he sees as the intrusion into his daughters' lives, has no plans to take the matter further.
 In today's edition, the News of the World apologised "publicly and unreservedly" to all victims of the hacking. It added: "What happened to them should not have happened. It was and remains unacceptable."
 But revelations of further targeting of members of the Royal Family will increase pressure on NI, whose admission of liability on Friday has been widely interpreted as the latest attempt by the media empire to restrict the growing damage caused by the scandal. NI has been forced to retreat from its initial claims that the hacking was the work of a single "rogue reporter" as a stream of embarrassing disclosures showed that as many as four former NoW news editors and many other staff may have been aware of the operation.
 They expressed regret for the phone hacking and offered £20m for a group settlement of eight current legal cases including the former culture secretary Tessa Jowell and actress Sienna Miller, but confined their contrition to hacking cases from 2004-2006. Despite NI's admission of liability, scores more cases are currently being pursued by solicitors through the High Court. Earlier this month, Crown Prosecution Service documents revealed how the original Scotland Yard inquiry uncovered more than 4,000 names or partial names and nearly 3,000 full or partial telephone numbers from documents seized when Mulcaire and Goodman were arrested.
 Lawyers acting for some of those pursuing legal claims – including those who have been made the NI offer – denied that they were ready to settle, and indicated their legal actions would continue.
 Charlotte Harris of Mischon de Reya, who acts for several clients taking action, writes in today's IoS that NI had been "caught by a metaphorical long lens in a compromising position". "They will never want to 'reveal all'," she said. Mark Thomson, speaking for Sienna Miller, said: "Sienna's claims are based on outrageous violations of her privacy. Her primary concern is to discover the whole truth and for all those responsible to be held to account."
 The former MP George Galloway, who said he had been shown proof that his phone had been hacked, dismissed the apology as a "cynical attempt to protect the company's chief executive", Rebekah Brooks.
 Ms Brooks was the editor of NoW from 2000 to 2003, leaving shortly before NI says the hacking took place. She has consistently denied any knowledge of illegal activity, but told MPs that her newspaper (then The Sun) paid police officers for information. Ms Brooks is said to be close to Rupert and James Murdoch and is also friends with David Cameron. Her successor as NoW editor, Andy Coulson, who resigned when Goodman and Mulcaire were convicted, later became Mr Cameron's director of communications, only to resign earlier this year when the hacking scandal made it "impossible" for him to do his job. He also denies knowledge of any wrongdoing.
 The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said yesterday it was important to establish who knew about the "criminal behaviour", and when. "We need to know who knew about these actions and when," he said. "We also need to know how far across the organisation knowledge of these actions went."
 Brian Paddick, a former senior Scotland Yard officer who believes his own phone was hacked, said NoW was apologising only in cases where it had been "caught red-handed". "These are people who have issued proceedings. They've got the courts to force NI to hand over evidence, and it would appear that in these cases NI has been caught red-handed, and only in those circumstances are they prepared to make an apology and pay up," he said.
 NI's liability admission completely turned on its head previous claims that it was the work of a single "rogue" reporter, Goodman, and Mulcaire. Last week, the former NoW news editor Ian Edmondson and its current senior reporter Neville Thurlbeck were arrested by Scotland Yard detectives investigating hacking allegations. Both men have been bailed.
 The latest arrests followed the disclosure of detailed evidence in the civil cases being brought against the Murdoch papers. These include evidence that the phones of the parents of the murdered Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were targeted by NoW.
 Mr Justice Vos, the High Court judge who is handling more than a dozen legal cases, is said to have become exasperated at NI's reluctance to disclose material sought by lawyers involved in the legal battle. Further potentially embarrassing disclosures are expected to be ordered by the judge at a case conference this week and seem certain to give rise to further evidence of the extent of unlawful activity.
 The disclosures are fuelling calls for a full-scale investigation into the scandal. Last week, the Government admitted there was a "need" to answer concerns about the failure to prevent the phone-hacking scandal, suggesting the possibility of an independent inquiry. Baroness Doocey, the Lib Dem spokeswoman on the Metropolitan Police Authority, said an outside force needed to investigate Scotland Yard's involvement and its "cosy" relationship with both NoW and NI.
 The police are reportedly confident that they can secure convictions at a low level, but their critics will be seeking to apply pressure on them to uncover wrongdoing at senior levels.
 Downing Street is also deeply embarrassed by allegations of a close relationship between it and the Murdoch organisation. A former NoW staffer, Paul McMullan, last week told the actor Hugh Grant in a New Statesman interview that he believed Rebekah Brooks knew about the hacking and how she enjoyed a close friendship with David Cameron.
 "This is not being played for laughs in Downing Street. Cameron is embarrassed by his association with Rebekah Brooks," one senior Conservative source said.
 NI denied claims that Ms Brooks, a key lieutenant of James Murdoch, will follow him to the US later this year.

The judge who brought Murdoch's empire to book

 Sir Geoffrey Vos is likely to be remembered in times to come as the lawyer who forced an apology out of one of the most powerful and influential media organisations in the world.
 Not that he sought the apology. But his firm and sure handling of the legal battles spiralling out of the News International hacking scandal has forced the Murdoch empire to hold its hands up and admit wrongdoing – up to a point.
 "The Vos-man", as he has been dubbed, first became embroiled in the News of the World affair when he heard Max Clifford's case against the newspaper in March 2010, which eventually settled out of court for more than £1m. Since then, Mr Justice Vos has consistently called for a full disclosure of evidence relating to News of the World journalists' dealings with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
 His insistence that News International disclose relevant material sought by hacking claimants and their lawyers is widely credited with forcing the Murdoch press to make its unprecedented public apology on Friday.
 Born to a Bermondsey leather merchant in 1955, Sir Geoffrey was educated at Cambridge University. He was called to the bar in 1977. After becoming a QC in 1993, he established himself as a leading light of commercial law chambers 3 Stone Buildings. A succession of multimillion-pound financial dispute cases rapidly consolidated his reputation as a Chancery heavyweight.
 He counselled the Mirror Group pensions trustees in their $100m claim against Morgan Stanley in 1995, and leading the Office of Fair Trading's unsuccessful case against the Premier League's rules for selling rights to televised matches.
 In 2007, as Bar Council chair, Sir Geoffrey defended the independence of the legal profession, under assault from government reforms and cuts to legal aid. More recently, he has been hailed a champion of social mobility, putting his weight behind the previous government's Milburn report on access to the bar.
 When not sitting, he chairs the Social Mobility Foundation, which supports young people from low-income backgrounds into top universities and professions, and last year won The Lawyer magazine's outstanding achievement award for his efforts.

Charlie Cooper


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