UK lawyer: Tabloid hacking led to untrue stories

November 23, 2011 - 7:50 AM
Britain Phone Hacking

Gerry and Kate McCann, front, arrive to testify at the Leveson inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011. McCanns' daughter Madeleine went missing from her family's holiday flat in the Algarve, shortly before her fourth birthday in 2007. The Leveson inquiry is Britain's media ethics probe that was set up in the wake of the scandal over phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper, which was shut in July after it became clear that the tabloid had systematically broken the law. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

LONDON (AP) — British journalists illegally eavesdropped to produce stories that were both intrusive and untrue, a lawyer for several victims of tabloid phone hacking said Wednesday.

Mark Lewis told a media ethics inquiry that when a News of the World reporter was arrested for phone hacking in 2006, he had a "eureka moment" about the source of a false story concerning two of his clients.

The story alleged a romantic relationship between soccer players' association chief Gordon Taylor and a lawyer named Joanne Armstrong, with whom he had been photographed having lunch. Taylor said he believed the story was based on a voice mail message from Armstrong thanking Taylor for speaking at her father's funeral.

The message said: "Thank you for yesterday. You were wonderful."

Lewis said that a tabloid journalist "added two and two and made 84. ... If it hadn't been so sad, it would have been funny."

In 2008, Rupert Murdoch's News International agreed to pay Taylor hundreds of thousands of pounds (dollars) in compensation for the hacking of his phone in return for keeping quiet about the deal.

Murdoch shut down the discredited News of the World tabloid in July after evidence emerged that it had routinely eavesdropped on the voice mails of public figures, celebrities and even crime victims in its search for scoops.

Lewis has represented many prominent hacking victims, including the family of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose voice mails were accessed by the News of the World after she disappeared in 2002.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the public inquiry into media ethics and practices in response to the still-evolving hacking scandal. This week it has heard testimony from celebrities including actor Hugh Grant and comedian Steve Coogan.

Later Wednesday it will hear from the parents of Madeleine McCann, who vanished from a hotel room in May 2007 during a family vacation in Portugal.

The inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, plans to issue a report next year and could recommend major changes to the way the media in Britain are regulated.

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Online:

Leveson Inquiry: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/

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