Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 2064-2079)



  Chairman: For the final part this afternoon, can I welcome Mr Mark Lewis, Solicitor Advocate at Stripes Solicitors. Paul Farrelly has some questions for you.

  Q2064 Paul Farrelly: Thank you very much for agreeing to the request to come. There were a number of people who have declined to appear in front of us so far, so thank you very much. I saw you were present for all of the police evidence?

  Mr Lewis: Yes.

  Q2065  Paul Farrelly: But not the Information Commissioner's evidence?

  Mr Lewis: I think I was here for a short period ten minutes, and then the police evidence.

  Q2066  Paul Farrelly: Do not be fooled by the empty gallery. This is being televised and there is not much else going on in Parliament at the moment, so journalists can watch this from the TV screen.

  Mr Lewis: Could I start by setting in context the evidence I can give?

  Q2067  Paul Farrelly: I want to ask you because you are under privilege here but personally you will feel there are things you can talk about or not.

  Mr Lewis: I have three issues at least that I have to deal with. One is client confidentiality because there are certain things I have been told by clients that I have to protect, so that is my secondary privilege, or more primary privilege I suppose. There is a privilege on the documents which were provided to me under court proceedings and court orders which, whilst you might find interesting, are still under court privilege, documents given on disclosure, and therefore unless they have been referred to in the public domain they cannot be referred to. The third issue is that I am under threat by News International of an injunction against me acting for other people, so I will try not to upset them.

  Q2068  Chairman: We are into complicated legal areas. Your first point, your responsibility to your client, is obviously understood, but on the second point, any information you give to this Committee cannot be regarded as a breach of any court order.

  Mr Lewis: I understand there is an implied undertaking that is given when obtaining documents on disclosure. Some of the issues in this case have been dealt with by members of the Committee who have asked very pertinent questions of the police, and I heard the evidence of the police, but those issues which apparently were not obvious to the police were very obvious to me at the starting point. If that sets it in context, the picture that came up was when the prosecution of Goodman and Mulcaire took place in respect of phone-hacking of the royal princes, Gordon Taylor, who was a client of mine at that time, was quite obviously of no interest whatsoever to Goodman and it did not take a genius (although I like to think that I might be a genius) to work out that somebody else had been the recipient of that information. That was the cause of the whole of this inquiry because I started to think, "Hang on, there is something more to it." The premise that led me to reach that conclusion is because a year before there had been an issue between my client and the News of the World which, whilst subject to client confidentiality, had led the News of the World to say to me that the information they had investigated at that stage was as a result of proper journalist inquiries. When I watched the television about the prosecution in respect of the royal princes being given, I thought, "No, it was not proper journalistic inquiries, they have been hacking phones and that is how they have got information which has led to that story." That is why—fast forward—we get to where we are here and my involvement in the case. My understanding is that there have been three cases. I have also undertaken three cases. Two of my clients have been named and I have been named as having acted for them—Gordon Taylor, Jo Armstrong—the third one has not been named and therefore I cannot name them within the context of these proceedings.

  Q2069  Chairman: The key question, you correctly surmise, or at least we would say is your view, that it is unlikely Clive Goodman was commissioning information from Gordon Taylor's phone. Do you have any evidence to suggest who in the News of the World might have been receiving information from Gordon Taylor's phone?

  Mr Lewis: This is interesting because I have heard the evidence given by the Assistant Commissioner and his side-kick. The methodology of the claim—and I have worked out there was a claim, it was obvious to me there was a claim but to make that stick I had to get documents which proved it—the way of getting the documents and the methodology, was applying for third party disclosure, as lawyers would call it, of various part bodies. That is why I applied for evidence from the Information Commissioner, and they consented, evidence from the CPS, and that was not a problem either, and evidence from the Metropolitan Police. When it came to the Metropolitan Police, the person who attended at the court was Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly. I can mention that because it was an open court, there were court hearings, and Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly said to me, "You are not having everything but we will give you enough on Taylor to hang them." Those were his words, "to hang them". So he quite clearly knew at that time there was sufficient evidence about my client, and I only had one client at that time, Mr Taylor, to hang the News of the World about that client. He also mentioned the number of people whose phones had been hacked. Whether that was an aside, whether that leads me into the threat of the injunction that the News of the World have made against me, or through their lawyers have made against me, the reservation of that right, but they had said that there was evidence about, or they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved. It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked, or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages. I think I am able to explain to this Committee how it worked. I accept there is a difference in civil burden and criminal burden, so the police might have been looking at things very differently and therefore if someone was called Neville they did not bother to check that because they could not prove it on the criminal burden of proof, but the position was that with Gordon Taylor there was sufficient evidence to be disclosed by the police to do the hanging, as the police had called it. But there was evidence, for example, the Neville email, which you have been talking about today, and it is fair to say that was not disclosed initially. It is a shame that the court file is closed, because obviously that cannot be looked at, but I think it is a matter of record that initially the News of the World's defence was, "This did not happen". This defence was subsequently amended to say, "Yes, it did" and the settlement came about shortly after disclosure from the Metropolitan Police showing for example the Neville—I nearly said "the Neville Thurlbeck" but that has never been proved on any criminal basis—email came out.

  Q2070  Paul Farrelly: I wanted to ask you, as far as you can, to describe your role in the case, when it started and when it was settled, part of which you have already done, Mr Lewis. Also, could you reflect a little further on the evidence the police have given, particularly with respect to the questioning about whether any of the evidence you were able to requisition through court orders gave you reasonable suspicion that other journalists were involved, either in the Taylor case or, and I do not know what evidence you are able to command, in the other cases as well, which is the question John asked? Before that, can I ask you to explain what is happening with News International now? They are not seeking to injunct you in respect of your appearance here, are they?

  Mr Lewis: No, they are not seeking to injunct me. I have copies of the letter but not necessarily for everybody.

  Q2071  Paul Farrelly: Can you explain what—

  Mr Lewis: The difficulty for News International, or Farrer's on behalf of News International, is that I know information which they say should not be used for other people. I disagree with that and I have responded to it. I have not had their substantive response to my letter but it says, "It goes without saying that our client ... .", that is News International, " ... will object to your involvement in this or any other related case as against our client for the reasons set out above. We reserve our client's rights to take injunctive proceedings against you, should you chose to disregard the matters contained in this letter." It then concludes by saying, "However, you have an opportunity to correct matters by confirming that you will now accept that you cannot act for any individual wishing to bring a claim against News Group in respect of the voicemail accessing allegations ... ", that is what they call this, voicemail accessing allegations, but I call it "phone-hacking" or such like. I think it can be summarised as, "You know too much, please don't act against us or we will bring the whole weight of the organisation down on you."

  Q2072  Paul Farrelly: More than "please".

  Mr Lewis: Perhaps I was being polite.

  Q2073  Paul Farrelly: I have not heard of this happening before. Is this something you are aware has professionally happened before to other solicitors, where they are seeking to prevent you from practising your trade because you have been involved in one case against one—

  Mr Lewis: I am sure it might have happened before but I am not aware of it.

  Q2074  Chairman: I do not quite follow. I understand why News of the World might not want you to appear on behalf of anybody else, but what are they threatening to do to you if you do?

  Mr Lewis: They threaten an injunction to stop me acting against them.

  Q2075  Chairman: On what possible grounds?

  Mr Lewis: On the basis that I won, I think.

  Q2076  Chairman: No court will grant an injunction on that basis! Does the News of the World have any serious threat against you?

  Mr Lewis: My response was no, they did not, but I took the view that I was entitled to act in the same way as anybody else who has now jumped on the bandwagon I have started rolling.

  Q2077  Chairman: It seems an entirely pointless letter to me.

  Mr Lewis: I think it was designed to upset me, but it did not.

  Q2078  Paul Farrelly: It is part of a pattern of activity perhaps, Chairman, and something the Solicitors' Complaints Authority might wish to have a look at if you were so bothered.

  Mr Lewis: Perhaps.

  Q2079  Paul Farrelly: Could you tell us when you started the case and when it was settled, just to give us a time frame?

  Mr Lewis: It is difficult to give the exact chronology of it because a year or so before is when there had been the threatened story—and I was acting at that time for Jo Armstrong, who has been mentioned earlier today, rather than for Gordon Taylor—to stop a story which was absolutely ridiculous anyway, and I got a response from Tom Crone, who I understand has given evidence previously to you, to say that this was a proper journalistic inquiry but there would be no story run. My understanding is that Mr Crone would have understood there to be proper journalistic inquiry rather than any knowledge on his part that there was anything improper. I have no doubt about him saying things honestly. It was a year later, when I just happened by chance to see the 9 o'clock News or 10 o'clock News, and heard "That is a proper journalistic inquiry" and I have a good memory and I thought, "Hang on", that phrase stuck out that these were not proper journalistic inquiries at all. It was at that point. So whenever the prosecution of the princes' hearing, the sentencing hearing, took place, was the date that Gordon Taylor's claim effectively was in embryo and started against News of the World.

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