Phone hack lawsuits loom, foam attack sentence cut

August 5, 2011 - 11:45 AM
Britain Phone Hacking

File- Feb 11 2008 photo of Sir Paul McCartney on his mobile phone in London. Former Beatle McCartney has told the Television Critics Association in the United States that he plans to contact police over allegations that his voicemails were intercepted. He told the audience Thursday Aug 4 2011 that

LONDON (AP) — Several alleged victims of tabloid phone hacking in Britain will soon file lawsuits against a second newspaper group, Piers Morgan's former employer Trinity Mirror PLC, their lawyer said Friday.

Mark Lewis said the claims would be filed in "a few weeks," but would not disclose identities of his clients or say precisely when the papers would be presented at court.

Lewis represents the family of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl abducted and murdered by a pedophile in 2002. The revelation a month ago that her voicemail messages had been accessed by the News of the World tabloid while she was still missing outraged British opinion, and triggered a crisis for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The phone hacking scandal centers on allegations that journalists eavesdropped on private phone messages, bribed police for information and hacked email accounts.

So far the crisis has centered on Murdoch's media empire, leading him to shut down the News of the World and abandon a bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting. Several former executives of the newspaper have been arrested by police investigating the eavesdropping.

But there have also been allegations of hacking by other newspapers. This week Paul McCartney's ex-wife, Heather Mills, claimed in a BBC interview that she was hacked by a Trinity Mirror journalist in 2001.

McCartney said Thursday that he planned to contact police over the claim.

"I will be talking to them about that," McCartney told the U.S. television journalists by videolink from Cincinnati, Ohio.

The BBC did not identify the journalist cited by Mills, but said it was not CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan, who was editor of the group's flagship tabloid, the Daily Mirror, between 1995 and 2004.

Morgan has repeatedly denied ordering anyone to spy on voicemails or knowingly publishing stories obtained through hacking.

But in an article published by the Daily Mail in 2006, Morgan said that he had been played a tape of a message McCartney had left on Mills' cell phone in the wake of one of their fights.

"It was heartbreaking," Morgan wrote. "He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang 'We Can Work It Out' into the answerphone."

Questions over how Morgan came to hear the message have led several British lawmakers to call on him to return to the U.K. and explain himself.

Lawmaker John Whittingdale, chairman of a parliamentary committee that is investigating hacking by the News of the World, said Thursday that Morgan "absolutely should" come to Britain to answer questions.

Whittingdale said "there is evidence to suggest that other newspapers were involved in phone hacking" — and that police should investigate.

Both Trinity Mirror and the publisher of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, eager to stop the scandal spreading to them, have announced reviews of editorial procedures in the wake of the revelations about the scale of wrongdoing at the News of the World.

Meanwhile, an activist who hit Murdoch with a shaving foam pie as the mogul testified to British lawmakers last month had his jail sentence reduced on appeal Friday.

Jonathan May-Bowles was sentenced Tuesday for assaulting the 80-year-old media tycoon as he gave evidence to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

A judge rejected May-Bowles attempt to overturn the sentence, but reduced it Friday to four weeks.

A lawyer for May-Bowles, 26, argued that the attack was in the tradition of comics "from Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges to Monty Python." Defense attorney Piers Marquis said the foam pie had been a "staple of slapstick comedy" for years.

But Judge Anthony Pitts said there had been nothing funny about the attack.

"It was intended, it seems to us, to cause fear and it must have caused fear," the judge said.

___

Frazier Moore and Noaki Schwartz in Los Angeles and David Stringer and Raphael G. Satter in London contributed to this report.

___

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://twitter.com/JillLawless