New evidence in the News of the World scandal has revealed that two lawyers representing the phone hacking victims were victims of the tabloid themselves. The Guardian reported today that the News of the World hired a private investigator to trail Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris, who have both worked on high-profile hacking cases, in an effort to make them abandon the lawsuits.
The private investigator in question, Derek Webb, reportedly trailed and recorded video of the lawyers over the past 18 months in hopes of finding personal information that could be used to publicly smear them. Webb, who was first hired by NOTW in 2003, is a former police officer, and has also targeted royal family members and cabinet members, sometimes at the behest of jailed former royal correspondent Clive Goodman.
According to The Guardian, in the spring of 2010, after the House of Commons' media select committee released a scathing report on the tabloid, Webb was hired to gather information about Lewis, who has represented hacking victims including soccer player Gordon Taylor and the family of Milly Dowler. Webb reportedly followed Lewis’ ex-wife, secretly recording video of her at home and out with her daughter.
Webb was reportedly given the task of trailing Harris in January 2011, when she was working on the case of soccer agent Sky Andrew, which led to Andy Coulson’s resignation. According to The Guardian, Webb was tasked with finding evidence to support a false allegation that Harris was having an affair with a Manchester solicitor; in truth, the two had never even met.
According to a separate report from the BBC, Webb’s surveillance was also part of the tabloid’s attempt to prove that Lewis and Harris were involved, and that Lewis had been leaking confidential information about his clients to her.
Webb has recently come forward about his investigations due to an ongoing dispute with NOTW; Webb claims that he was never given a loyalty payment for his eight years of service after the newspaper shut down this past summer.
In a statement, News International admitted to having discovered that Lewis and Harris had been subject to surveillance but denied that any company executives had had any knowledge of it. “While surveillance is not illegal, it was clearly deeply inappropriate in these circumstances,” said a company spokesperson. “This action was not condoned by any current executive at the company.”