Mark Lewis: The Lawyer Who “Walked Into a John Grisham Novel”
March 27, 2012, 10:06 pm ET
Described as a man “who doesn’t have a fear gene” by Guardian reporter Nick Davies, Mark Lewis has represented more than 80 people who’ve accused News of the World of hacking their phones, including football executive Gordon Taylor and the family of murder victim Milly Dowler. Though he was put under surveillance by News International, Lewis says he never wavered: “When I found myself in the position that Rupert Murdoch, News International, were threatening me to take me on, there was only thing I was going to do, which was hit them back on the nose.” This is the edited transcript of two interviews conducted on Dec. 12, 2011 and March 3, 2012.
How did you get involved in this phone-hacking case?
… Go back to 2006. I [represented] somebody called Joanne Armstrong, who was the in-house lawyer at the Professional Footballers’ Association — that’s soccer here. She was having lunch with the chief executive of the PFA, Gordon Taylor, and a member of the public came up to them and said, “There’s a guy over there taking your photograph.” There was an altercation. I acted for Joanne Armstrong. I blocked the story.
Some months later, there had been an arrest of a private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire and the royal correspondent of The News of the World, Clive Goodman. It sounded like it was going to be a much bigger thing, but it then became a very narrow thing. They faced criminal charges, and they subsequently pleaded guilty.
Now, Clive Goodman, the royal correspondent, had been hacking some of the royal family’s employees’ phones. Glenn Mulcaire was charged with and pleaded guilty to hacking various people’s [phones], including the phone of Gordon Taylor.
I just happened to walk into one of my rooms one evening and saw the news being read out, and Gordon Taylor’s was one of five pictures behind Glenn Mulcaire, and I just thought, so that’s how he got that story.
“I have two clients who have got the same name. One is the real person that they were after, and one is another person who had the same name, so he was hacked anyway. … It’s fortunate that they weren’t looking to do a story about somebody called John Smith, because if they were looking to do a story about John Smith, there would probably be about 100,000 victims.”
The story that you were involved in.
That I had blocked months earlier. They had said it was proper journalistic inquiries when I had blocked it, and [I] thought, no, it wasn’t. Glenn Mulcaire … was getting that story about [Gordon Taylor] and must have been getting it for The News of the World. I knew it couldn’t be for the royal correspondent, so it must have been somebody else at The News of the World.
What I did was pursue with a barrister something called non-party disclosure from a third party of the Metropolitan police to find out what there was. We were trying to raise an inference that The News of the World had operated an illegal activity.
Once we’d got that order, we found out the information that we required to show that there had been hacking of Gordon’s phone. I was acting for Gordon Taylor at that time. …
And just by chance, because of what happened with the royals and the original scandal involving Mulcaire, you put two and two together.
It’s all flaps of butterfly wings. The person who came up and said “Someone’s taking your photograph” has created the whole scandal. If that person would not have come up to Gordon Taylor and Joanne Armstrong on that first date, there would have been no case at all, because they wouldn’t have known that their photograph was being taken.
Either The News of the World would have run a story or not. If they had run a story, then there might have been proceedings — because it wasn’t a true story at all — for libel, for defamation of their character. But it wouldn’t have been about an invasion of privacy. We wouldn’t have known how they got it. …
When I explained to you that we got non-party disclosure, what had happened was that News of the World or Glenn Mulcaire had added two and two together and got 84 or so, because Joanne Armstrong, unfortunately, tragically, her father had died. When he died, Gordon Taylor had delivered a eulogy or something at the father’s funeral.
Joanne Armstrong didn’t speak to him — because obviously she was very upset at the fact that it was her father’s funeral — until the next day, when she called his cell phone and left a message for him, in which she said, “Thanks for yesterday. You were wonderful,” or words to that effect. …
If you had continued it, it should have been: “Thanks for yesterday. You were wonderful delivering the eulogy at my father’s funeral.” What it was read as, or what it was misunderstood by a News of the World tag, was: “Thanks for yesterday. You were wonderful in bed.” And they’d got it so wrong. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be hysterically funny.
… You represented Mr. Taylor?
I pursued a claim on his behalf. I’d got documents from the Metropolitan police and then found out what had happened. At that point, negotiations ensued that led to the settlement which James Murdoch is now criticized for having signed the check to settle. …
What was the initial response of News International?
The initial response when we started the claim was to reject the claim, to say no. But Tom Crone, who was the in-house counsel for The News of the World, the newspaper group, came to see me to discuss it.
Tom Crone is known as a pretty crusty guy.
He’s a sharp operator. He’s been doing this for a long time, and he knows what he’s doing. Or one would have thought he knew what he was doing.
I was based in Manchester at the time. The News of the World [was] based in London. Tom Crone historically was not known for going out of his office except at lunchtime, not leaving London.
I got a phone call from the external solicitors, said to me, “Can Tom Crone come and see you?” And that was a giveaway that there was something bigger. …
It was the mountain coming to Muhammad rather than Muhammad going to the mountain, that all of a sudden the top lawyer wanted to come and see me. If he’d have phoned me up, or if he’d sent me a letter saying, “We don’t think you’ve got a case. We make no admissions about it. However, out of an abundance of commercial commonsense, we’re going to give 10,000 pounds, 15,000 pounds to settle it without any admission of liability,” my client would probably have had to accept that, and the case would all have been over.
But they didn’t do that. He didn’t write a letter. The judgment was to come and see me. It was obvious that there was something bigger, and because of that, I asked for damages of 250,000 pounds at that time. …
When you made the inquiry, an officer in the Metropolitan police told you what?
We’d applied for an order of disclosure of everything in relation to unlawful practices — phone hacking — by The News of the World. … What was given out was not things in relation to 6,000 victims, but it was a small amount of material because it was enough to hang them. It showed that this was a practice that had taken place at The News of the World, not by Clive Goodman, the royal correspondent, but by others. And once we’d got that information, The News of the World started to have settlement negotiations. …
What was the significance of the “For Neville” e-mail in this process?
… Neville, who worked at The News of the World, was their chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck. [He] says he did not know about phone hacking and wasn’t involved in it.
But what we knew at the time was at the very least a story had been obtained about Gordon Taylor and Joanne Armstrong by someone, and it wasn’t for Clive Goodman. It was given by another individual — we have rules that we can’t disclose all the details because of investigations — but we knew that this was subject to another person who’s now been arrested and Neville Thurlbeck, who was the recipient of the e-mail. …
The other thing … is we’d got a recording. The police sent us a recording of the inquiry agent, Glenn Mulcaire, telling somebody how to hack a phone. He was giving instructions out to a journalist of what he had to do by dialing a number and inserting a PIN number to get the information. Now, that individual did not work for The News of the World. He didn’t work for the group that owned The News of the World. He worked for another newspaper.
You might therefore have expected that The News of the World would have said: “He doesn’t work for us. It wasn’t anything to do with us. You’ve sued the wrong people; therefore you’ve just lost this case.” But they didn’t do that. … They wanted to come forward and negotiate.
It’s not clear why that triggered that thought in them. There are all sorts of possibilities, like the other individual, although he worked for another newspaper group, might have been doing some work for The News of the World, or the fact that it showed that Glenn Mulcaire was aware of how to hack a phone and giving the instructions out. For whatever reason, The News of the World did not want that information out there
… How much time from the first butterfly wing to the settlement?
About two years from when the incident in the restaurant had happened in 2006 to a settlement in 2008.
So from the butterfly to the fallout to Tom Crone showing up at your office, the numbers went from a normal possible 3,000 to 10,000 pounds to what? …
[In] 2008, we got — including the legal costs, etc. — something like 725,000 pounds. It was completely out of proportion, because we’d got the legal costs, and we’d got the damages that were paid for. …
You know that today the story of the settlement and how it was approved inside has become controversial.
There are issues as to how it was agreed, as I understand it, in terms of News International. They’ve disclosed that the advice that they got from their leading counsel had advised up to 250,000 pounds to settle, or they were at risk if they lost the whole case of paying 250,000, yet they settled the case for more money.
Now, there is a dispute on their side. It’s almost like a circular firing squad. Their in-house barrister, Tom Crone, says that information was given to James Murdoch. James Murdoch says he knew nothing about it; he simply signed a check. And I don’t know the answer, and of course I can’t determine whether or not either of them are lying or both of them are lying. …
… Was this a record settlement for a prepublication damage agreement?
It wasn’t just a record; it smashed all records. … By comparison, the previous awards of damages for invasion of privacy for non-published stories had been in the region of 3,000 thousand pounds, 10,000 thousand pounds, 15,000 thousand pounds. I mean, this was off the scale. It was an enormous sum. …
… James Murdoch of News International had to approve this check [to Gordon Taylor], had to sign the check?
James Murdoch did sign the check. He accepts that he signed the check. What he says about it is he didn’t know that there was anything unusual effectively about him signing the check; that it was simply presented to him by the lawyers as being the right amount to settle. …
It’s kind of hard to believe that if this [was] such a smashed-all-records payment that they wouldn’t have had to have briefed whoever signed the check as [to] why were you paying this money.
If you think of the different scenarios, one is that they would have gone to James Murdoch and said: “Just do me a favor. Please sign this check.” And he might have said, “What am I signing that check for?” And they said, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing special; it’s just one of the legal cases that we’ve done.” And he would have said: “Why? What did we say about him? What did we publish?” And they’d have said: “Oh, nothing at all. We didn’t say anything at all; we just hacked his phone.” …
I don’t know what the position is. What we have is the editor at the time, Colin Myler, we have the chief lawyer at the time, Tom Crone, who say that information was given to James Murdoch. We have James Murdoch who says no, it wasn’t. There’s a direct conflict as to what happened. …
At this time there’s public testimony going on in which News International was saying this was a rogue reporter, and you knew differently, right?
The line that was being pursued by News International was quite clearly “rogue reporter.” I might have had a wry smile to myself that what they were saying to the public wasn’t what I knew to be the case. There were certain people who must have known that this went further and that effectively a lie was being peddled to the general public.
Parliament had been given evidence about this rogue-reporter defense. But if I could characterize the News International, News Corp., the English subsidiary’s attitude to this is, they talked of a rogue reporter, but also as a fallback position saying, “When this story came out, it was only footballers, soccer players, celebrities, politicians, all of whom are not popular people, so there was no real sympathy that existed.” So that was a fallback.
After the settlement, in July 2009, The Guardian newspaper broke a story. Initially what was said about that story was that they are a left-wing newspaper; this was simply a way of causing trouble, anti-Murdoch sentiment; nobody was really interested in anything that happened, and anyway, [there's] this rogue reporter, and it [had] been unsympathetic.
When it happened, when the criminal cases happened, The News of the World had carried an editorial pursuing this rogue-reporter line, which described it as “A sad day in the 164-year history of The News of the World.” So it was rogue, but it was backed up by the fallback position that these people anyway, if they were hacked, they sort of deserved it.
So they had their line worked out?
They had their line worked out. … There was a sort of code of silence between various newspapers, and not necessarily News International newspapers, but other newspapers in different groups did not report what had happened. The Times newspaper, which belongs to News International, didn’t report in any detail what had happened. …
Nick Davies’ story died on the vine.
… It wasn’t going anywhere. It had been dismissed as this sort of left-wing plot. It was revitalized in a sense by a story from the other side of the Atlantic. The New York Times had run a story, which gave impetus again to pursue the story. …
What gave some momentum to everything was the civil cases. Usually the criminal law catches up with something, but this was a case where the civil law caught up.
It wasn’t me on my own. There were a number of civil lawyers who were pursuing cases in terms of hacking, and eventually the Metropolitan police, the London police force, decided to reopen an inquiry.
The case had been pursued by an actress, Sienna Miller, who had, through another lawyer, been pursuing a claim. That and the combination of various other things led to what the police now call Operation Weeting. …
In the midst of all this, you have a falling-out with Gordon Taylor, and you leave your law firm? … You got fired, right?
It is not quite like that. … I was expelled as a good leaver, which meant I was expelled without reason, even though I had done nothing wrong, even though there was no suggestion that I had done anything wrong. …
I didn’t fall out with Gordon Taylor. At that point, Gordon Taylor’s then-current lawyers were instructed — a different firm — to ask me some questions. I provided answers to those questions.
They took the view that I should not have acted for Joanne Armstrong in a privacy case. They pursued a complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to say I shouldn’t do that. The SRA said they accepted my explanation that I was entitled to do that and found in my favor. …
Now, let me understand this. … You’re forced out of your firm.
I was given a choice, and I did not accept it in time, and I was therefore forced out.
They didn’t want you to take any more of these cases?
Then you get a letter, as I understand it, from attorneys for News International saying that they’re going to make sure that you don’t take any more cases.
Correct. I was already out of a job, and then I got the letter from the attorneys for News International saying — the words they use is, “It’s rare that we have to admonish a fellow professional,” and “We might seek an injunction against you, but there is still time for you to do the proper thing and not act.”
I didn’t do what they asked me to do.
Who were you going to act for?
At that time, other individuals had contacted me to act.
Because they had seen this article, or because word had gotten out that you’d gotten –
Word had gotten out. There was an individual called Max Clifford who’s a publicist, who had given an interview on the television program Newsnight, … and he’d said he wanted Gordon Taylor’s lawyer to act for him, to represent him, and obviously people had told me about that.
To see if you could smash another record?
I’m sure that was what was wanted. It was a joint instruction, not just me but my former assistant, who then left to go to another firm.
So you reject the advice you get from News International’s lawyers?
I certainly did reject the advice, but I also realized at that time that they were effectively trying to bully me, to frighten me, to say, “Oh, you mustn’t do that; otherwise we might throw the whole force of News International against you and try and take you on.”
They’ve got a lot of force. You didn’t think twice about it?
They misjudged me. The whole thing that I have always said to every client is that you’ve always got to stand up to a bully. The example I’ve always given is, on the first day of school, if the school bully comes to you and says, “Give me your lunch money, give me your dinner money, or I’ll beat you up; I’ll bash you up,” if you give him your money, you’ll be doing that every day of your school life.
What I always say to clients is that you’ve got to hit them on the nose, and if you don’t hit them on the nose, or you don’t feel able to, stand next to a big person and they’ll do that, and I’ll be that big person for you.
So when I found myself in the position that Rupert Murdoch, News International, were threatening me to take me on, there was only thing I was going to do, which was hit them back on the nose.
What did you do?
I just said I wasn’t prepared to give them the undertaking, and I instead gave evidence to Parliament, to a select committee in the House of Commons who were investigating press standards, press conduct, 2nd of September, 2009. …
I started by saying there are three things that [they've] got to be aware of: One, client confidentiality. Anything that’s between me and Gordon Taylor that’s not in the public domain, I can’t talk about. Anything that was a court document that I was given through court proceedings, I can’t talk about. And the third thing is, I’m under threat of an injunction by News of the World, so just be aware of that.
Then I got asked by the chairman of the select committee, John Whittingdale, an MP [member of Parliament], who said: “Why would they threaten you with an injunction? What would that be? What’s the basis of it?” And I said, “I think what they’re saying is, ‘Please don’t act against us; you know too much,'” to which one of the other members of Parliament, Paul Farrelly, said, “I don’t think that they were saying ‘please.'”
… At the end of my evidence, I explained that I was a lawyer, that it was my job to stand up to companies, to stand up to executives, to represent my clients without fear nor favor, and nobody would therefore frighten me from doing that job on their behalf, and that I wasn’t scared of anybody, whether it was Rupert Murdoch or anybody else.
Actually, at the end of the evidence, two of the members of Parliament came up to me and said, “You’re very brave that you said that, that you’re prepared to take that on.” I don’t think that I was being brave. People might think that I was being stupid.
Or a little crazy.
Maybe people think I was a little crazy, but the reality is that’s what lawyers do. You’ve got to be prepared to stand up without fear, without favor. You’ve got to represent your client. And if you’re frightened, it’s not talking.
On a personal basis, I am frightened. I’m frightened when I go to the dentist. I don’t like going to the dentist. But if I’m representing a client, am I frightened of Rupert Murdoch if I’m suing him? No, of course not. I’m a lawyer; that’s what I do. …
… What was [Rupert Murdoch's] power like in 2009? …
… The media is very powerful, and Rupert Murdoch was the head of the media. He was the head of BSkyB television, lots of television networks, … Fox News, for example. He was in charge of The Times newspaper; ultimately The Sun newspaper, which was a daily tabloid; The News of the World, which was a best selling newspaper, a best selling Sunday newspaper. So this was a very powerful man.
And his power perhaps could be seen by the control that the media that he owned had over Parliament, over the government. In 1992, the headline of The Sun newspaper after a general election to form the government of this country was: “It was The Sun what won it.”
The politicians were scared of Rupert Murdoch’s papers. They wanted his support, his allegiance. So it had always happened in elections that you needed the backing of his newspapers, or at least the politicians thought that they needed the backing of his newspapers.
When the current prime minister was elected, David Cameron, his first visitor to the prime ministerial residence offices, 10 Downing Street, was Rupert Murdoch. It was how it was.
Tony Blair, the former prime minister — different political party — is supposed to have been godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s children. …
Politicians, prime ministers, were very conscious of Rupert Murdoch’s power because I think that they believed, whether rightly or wrongly, that he had the power to determine whether or not they would be in government or in opposition, and whether on a personal basis and other members of Parliament on a personal basis could afford to take him on, because he might just hit them back. …
… How did you come to represent the Dowlers? Was that at this particular time?
The reason I came to represent the Dowlers was a complete fluke. Sally Dowler could have gone to any firm — or any firm who was dealing with phone-hacking claims — and [by chance] she chose to contact me. …
Describe them for people who don’t know who they are.
The Dowlers are an ordinary family. They have ordinary jobs. Sally Dowler was a schoolteacher.
What changed their lives really was in 2002, their 13-year-old daughter Milly was abducted and murdered. Nobody knew why at the time, and even though it was in 2002, it took the police nine years to prosecute the murderer of their daughter, to capture and to prosecute a man called Levi Bellfield.
Just before the trial of Levi Bellfield, … they were notified by the Surrey police that Metropolitan police wanted to speak to them because their phones had been hacked, and Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked during the very early stages, when she was effectively a missing person.
[Editors' Note: In June 2011, Levi Bellfield was convicted of abducting and murdering Milly Dowler.]
These ordinary people called you up, and you were at this point a single practitioner. No secretary, I understand?
I worked in a firm that is not a big firm. I don’t have a secretary. … At the time, I was pretty much within the firm on my own, in terms of the work I was doing.
There were four of us crammed into a pretty small room, and my first conversation with the Dowlers was, I took my cell phone into basically a store cupboard between the two offices that my firm occupied and had this conversation in probably an area that was no bigger than 5 square feet, which is quite hard because I pace when I’m talking on the phone. There was a lot of turning around.
… How did you decide to go about handling their case?
When they came to see me, they told me that they’d had the meeting with the police, that Milly’s phone had been hacked; there was no question that Milly’s phone was hacked; that News of the World people, or person, had eavesdropped on her messages, listened to her messages. And when they told me that, I just said, “If I was The News of the World, I’d give you our checkbook and say, ‘You fill in the figures; just don’t tell anyone what we’ve done, because [it's] horrendous.'”
What the Dowler case did was it uncovered the lie, the fallback position, rogue reporter. But anyway, it was just politicians, celebrities, sportspeople. Then we have a situation where it’s a murdered schoolgirl. A household name is a murdered schoolgirl, a 13-year-old girl with a cell phone that had been listened into by The News of the World. Horrendous.
I’d been doing the job of being an attorney for 21 years. I’d never heard a story that was like that, and when they told me the story, I had goose bumps, like, you can’t be serious about this, because the mother had relayed a story of basically false hope.
There’s now an issue as to the cause of that false hope, but what she said was that at some point in the investigation, … going back to 2002, her daughter was missing, [and] she was able to get through to the cell phone’s voicemail, which had been full up, because messages had deleted, and it all made sense to her.
Now there’s an issue as to whether that deletion was by somebody from The News of the World, but that on top of the fact that nobody from The News of the World had any right whatsoever to hack into the voicemail of a missing schoolgirl — not missing schoolgirl, but any schoolgirl. It was just outrageous that they could do that. …
The impact of the Millie Dowler story, it was like the Berlin Wall coming down. … There’d been a wall of silence from every other newspaper, every other newspaper group apart from The Guardian and The Independent that hadn’t talked about hacking. … And then, all of a sudden, the whole world wanted to know about it. …
[News International] wanted to settle.
To be fair to them, it wasn’t that they wanted to settle; they wanted to know what would happen. They were looking for information that we could give them. We wanted information from them. There were more important things for them and more important things for us than the financial side of it.
This all leads in the end not just to a settlement but to Rupert Murdoch himself meeting with the Dowlers?
… On the Monday we met the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. On the Tuesday we met Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition party, the Labor Party. On the Wednesday we went to 10 Downing Street and met David Cameron. … And on the Friday we had a meeting with Rupert Murdoch. And how [do] I put it? It was a shame that the pope wasn’t available on the Thursday, because I had a spare day.
You were there. You met Rupert Murdoch. Tell us about it. …
It was a private meeting. We discussed things that took place, and I’ve got to respect the privacy of that meeting. Afterward I delivered a speech. We didn’t deliver speeches jointly or anything. Rupert Murdoch went first. I don’t know what he said because we went outside at that time.
Then we went outside and read out a statement on behalf of the Dowler family, basically saying that time will tell what’s happened, but your duty, Rupert Murdoch, what you should be doing is leading the way and making sure that your newspapers act responsibly, honestly, etc., and finishing with the phrase, “Time will tell,” because it was always going to be a question as to whether or not the newspaper would adopt an ethical basis after that. …
I understand that you told Rupert Murdoch that his mother would be ashamed of him.
… I’d said, “I know that you know about me,” because I was aware that there had been a report prepared about me.
A report done by News International’s lawyers, or investigators?
A report done by investigators. Whether or not he accepts that report was done by investigators, I was aware that a report had been prepared effectively profiling me, and I said: “Well, you know about me, but I also know about you, and I know that your mother is still alive. She’s 102 years old.” And I said to him that she would be ashamed of your conduct. She would be ashamed of all this. …
And there was a private conversation between Rupert Murdoch, me and the Dowlers were there, and somebody from News International called Will Lewis. We were talking about private things on the personal side of what families would say. … And Rupert Murdoch had talked about the standards of his father. He described his father as a great journalist who would have been ashamed of this, because this wasn’t journalism; this was just straightforward, gross, flagrant intrusion into people’s private lives.
His father would have been ashamed of him, and his mother?
He said his father would have been ashamed of him. I said his mother would have been ashamed, but he said his father also.
So he agreed.
I think so. I know people almost think that I was sycophantic to Rupert Murdoch, but he seemed to be genuinely upset. He seemed to be genuinely bothered. He was putting his head in his hands a lot and apologizing for what had happened.
How I saw it at the time is actually that the tabloid press — as we call The News of the World, The Sun, The Mirror in this country — when they were looking at individuals and writing about individuals, they could look at them and write about them provided they didn’t meet them. As long as you dehumanize a victim, you can do anything. But once you make it into a human being, it is different.
So with Milly Dowler, it’s a young girl who’s been killed. If you had to suddenly think about what you were doing, if you had to meet her parents, if you had to meet her sister, horrendous. …
How big was the settlement in this case?
The settlement was 3 million pounds.
Yes, but how it was settled — and the Dowlers had pursued it like this: They didn’t take a settlement in respect of Milly Dowler. The Milly Dowler money, or the money that she would have got, was donated to charity by Rupert Murdoch. He apparently — and I’m sure he did — paid the money to charity himself. The Dowler family nominated the charities. It was charities that had some link to Milly, either in terms of charities that helped victims of crime, helped victims of missing schoolchildren, or that were close to her in another way. For example, they related to her godfather [who] died as a young man from a brain tumor, so there was to a brain tumor charity, a cancer charity, and also [a donation] to a swimming pool where Milly had had many of her childhood happy memories. … Two million pounds was in respect of the family and dealing with legal fees.
The Rupert Murdoch that you met, how did that compare to the Rupert Murdoch that you saw before Parliament?
In a way it’s not the Rupert Murdoch before Parliament, but the image of Rupert Murdoch and the one that I met are two very different things. It was like The Wizard of Oz film; you follow the yellow brick road and actually you find that there’s just this little old man at the end of it who’s pretending, and the image is much bigger than he is in reality. …
The Rupert Murdoch that I met was this 80-year-old man who was hard-of-hearing, and not the Rupert Murdoch by reputation who had been around 30 years earlier in business, and who’d been brilliant and domineering, because he didn’t come across like that.
Notwithstanding, obviously he’s a very successful businessman, someone whose personal fortune is tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands times bigger than mine will ever be.
… Now you represent how many victims?
Eighty, maybe 90 people now have instructed me to pursue claims. But these people, who are victims from all sorts of categories — there are people who are celebrities, sportspeople and politicians — they’re also like people who are victims of crime, people who are family members of victims of crime, or people who have left messages who knew a celebrity, knew a sportsperson.
One of my cases, it’s for someone whose last name is the name of a sportsperson. No doubt somebody at The News of the World thought that they had found somebody who was related to a sportsperson that they were investigating. In fact, it was just a complete freak chance that they have the same last name.
So the people who were actually doing the hacking or gathering the information really don’t have any idea of how much damage they’ve done?
They don’t know. One of my favorite stories is I have two clients who have got the same name. One is the real person that they were after, and one is another person who had the same name, so he was hacked anyway. …
It’s fortunate that they weren’t looking to do a story about somebody called John Smith, because if they were looking to do a story about John Smith, there would probably be about 100,000 victims
They were out of control.
It was a newsroom out of control. There was no reason for hacking anybody. But it was so easy. … They were thinking of it in a way of how you would think of driving 35 in a 30 zone. It was just something you did. I don’t think anybody gave any thought to it.
To hack a phone is very easy. If I have your number, the cell phone companies give a standard factory-setting PIN number. So if I only phone your number and then go to your voicemail by pressing the star key, I then just put in a PIN number, or personal identification number, which would be a standard number unless you’ve changed it, and then I can listen to all your voicemail messages.
I’m sure that certain News of the World journalists and certain journalists probably at other newspapers … probably just got away with it.
Is there any indication in what you’ve learned so far that because many of the celebrities The News of the World or The Sun were interested in are in the United States or in Hollywood on in New York, that they were doing it in the United States?
… I’ve been instructed to act for people who may be European nationals who happen to have been in the United States when they were hacked and leaving messages to other people in the United States who might also be Europeans. …
I think one of the journalists [James Desborough] who is under arrest at the moment — nobody’s been charged with anything — but I think one was based in America.
… It appears that the police are saying that the reporters at The News of the World did not delete Milly Dowler’s [voicemails].
What you have to look at is The Guardian ran a story on July 4, which was Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked by The News of the World. … One of the things that was said in the report of the 4th of July was that there had been deletions, and that those deletions had been undertaken by reporters or on behalf of reporters at The News of the World. What the police are now saying is that it is not known, right?
Sally Dowler described, when she gave evidence, a moment. … She’d not been able to get through to her daughter, and she had been leaving messages for three days. Because the voicemail had filled up, she couldn’t get through. And all of a sudden, she was able to get through.
And her evidence to Leveson public inquiry was, “I turn around to my husband, Bob, and said: ‘She’s alive. She’s got her messages.'”
There are certain theories … about that issue. One is that it was as a result of automatic deletions at that time in 2002; once a message had been listened to, it would delete after 72 hours.
We know that Milly Dowler had last used her phone on the 20th of March, 2002, the day before she went missing. So the 72 hours from any message, the last possible message that Milly Dowler could have listened to would have been on the 23rd of March.
Sally Dowler’s moment of her being alive was actually on the 24th of March, so it couldn’t have been triggered by automatic deletion by Milly Dowler.
So the question to be put forward is, who deleted? Now. Glenn Mulcaire, who was the inquiry agent, he initially said it was him. … The police have said that Mulcaire was not tasked by The News of the World until after that moment on the 24th.
That is not conclusive [in and] of itself, because there are other reasons why he might have been tasked or might have thought of doing it himself. I simply do not know. The same is [true] of the fact that other journalists at The News of the World might have done this. We just don’t know at this stage.
But what we do know is that another journalist at The News of the World claims in 2002 to the Surrey police that he knew Milly Dowler’s phone number and her personal identification number. There’s no reason that you would have got her PIN number other than to listen to her voicemails. So that’s a question that’s got to be investigated. …
The police are saying that it’s not clear at this point who deleted or how those deletions took place.
All the police are saying is it’s unlikely that Glenn Mulcaire, … the private investigator, deleted, but they can’t say conclusively that he didn’t. …
You agree that it’s not an established fact that News of the World reporters or employees deleted those [voicemails].
It’s a questionable thing as to whether or not they deleted those voicemails.
But two people at the News Corporation — they’ve said it on the air already — the impact of that story wasn’t just that the phone was hacked, but that the mother was given false hope. And the story that appeared in The Guardian didn’t equivocate. It said they deleted the [voicemails], and it’s the outrage over the false hope that in many ways started this firestorm, right?
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. But we know as a fact that The News of the World or some of its employees or one of its employees was listening to Milly Dowler’s voicemail.
We know therefore that at some point, whether or not it’s that false-hope moment, that they would have triggered the 72-hour automatic deletion. We know that what they were doing was hampering a police investigation into a murdered teenager. …
They closed the newspaper down. Rupert Murdoch, when he came to Britain, was interviewed and was walking along, and Rebekah Brooks, who was the chief executive at News International, and he [was asked], “What’s your priority?” Rupert Murdoch could have said, “My priority is to get to the bottom of all this, to find out what’s going on, and to sack the individuals and have a quality of zero tolerance to any individuals who have broken the law.” But he didn’t say that.
When he was asked a question what his priority was, he went, “This one,” and pointed to the chief executive. And he chose to keep Rebekah Brooks basically in her job rather than to keep the newspaper. …
You have been under surveillance, your family, your children.
Right. … I’ve seen the video of my ex-wife and my daughter, who was 14. I’ve seen a video that was found in News International’s English offices. … They knew exactly what was going on. … Instructions had been given to do surveillance. …
And video of you?
No, I haven’t seen a video of me.
Photos of you or anything?
I haven’t seen photos of me. I’ve seen reports that refer to me. … I understand that there were other videos and surveillance of me, but I haven’t seen anything else. …
I come to work in my office, and I regard myself as therefore one of the opponents in litigation. … I’m able to look after myself and fight on my own behalf. If someone tries to get dirty with me, they shouldn’t do [it]. I’m going to take legal action against them.
But I was horrified to think that somebody would think it was a proper thing to do to go even wider than attacking the lawyer, but to attack the lawyer’s family. That just doesn’t make any sense. … No justification for that whatsoever. …
You’ve said that but for a butterfly’s wing and a chance encounter and pure chance, pure serendipity, it’s very possible none of this would have come out.
Correct. … The journey, which is something which has started as a small file in my office in Manchester, had led to the resignation of someone in 10 Downing Street. But actually that was only about 20 percent of the journey. … I describe my life as that, two or so years ago, I walked into a John Grisham novel. I was a small-town lawyer who suddenly ended up taking on one of the world’s biggest media groups and having acted for individuals. … I would describe myself as someone who was behind the camera. Now I’ve become someone who is in front of the camera. I became part of the story. Never imagined that. …
You obviously were familiar with the News Corporation before all this happened. Now, since you’ve had so much experience dealing with them, what do you think of them as a company?
… I’d heard of News Corp. before all this. I don’t think they had heard of me. I think now they’ve heard of me.
… Out of all of this, as a lawyer, should laws be changed?
I think laws are going to be changed. The Leveson inquiry is looking at the code of ethics for the press, and how the press in this country is regulated.
There is a difference between America and England in terms of what we perceive as self-regulation. In America, self-regulation is the newspapers regulating themselves, whereas here, what we talk about as self-regulation is not the newspapers regulating themselves, but an external body called the Press Complaints Commission.
Yet the Press Complaints Commission has got a new chairman who has come forward and said the Press Complaints Commission is not a regulator. Meanwhile, the press here has been saying we must at all costs avoid state regulation. They make it sound like something from the Stalinist regime or a Third World dictatorship that says what you can and cannot print. But it has to be somewhere that there is an ability to regulate.
… In America my understanding is that newspapers do second sourcing, so if they’re going to say something, they need to have a primary source and a secondary source to confirm it. And if they can’t get the secondary source, they choose not to make the allegation. They’ve got to be very happy about it.
Whereas here, they don’t need to be — there doesn’t need to be any sources. They can almost make it up. We’ve heard in the Leveson inquiry that some people have given evidence saying, “Sometimes we have paparazzi photographers spit at us in the street so that we’d turn around and react, and when we turn around and react in an angry way or something, they say: ‘Right there, we have taken a picture, and we can sell the picture of the film star or the actress, the actor being very angry. That’s a story that we can sell.'” There’s a different take on it.
So it will come into the law. How far the law goes is very different, because what the law is looking to do is to look at what is printed and what can be said. What the law doesn’t address is what is not printed and what is not said.
So you say people talk about the phone-hacking scandal. One of the phone-hacking scandals is this fact that the phone-hacking scandal itself was not reported until Milly Dowler.
Between 2009 and 2011 there was a wall of silence. That means that the majority of the population, unless they happened to be Guardian readers or Independent readers or people who’d watch the news on the BBC, would not have even known about this. But for Milly Dowler, they still wouldn’t know about this. …
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEThe Fight for YemenApril 7th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE About FRONTLINE Contact FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.