LONDON — Celebrities and politicians who have had their mobile phones hacked by a British tabloid can sue for invasion of privacy but are unikely to get much money in damages, a leading media lawyer said Friday.
Nigel Tait’s comments came after the Guardian newspaper reported that the News of the World, a tabloid owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, paid investigators to obtain voice mail messages, bank statements and other information about public figures.
The targets reportedly included Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, singer George Michael and senior British politicians.
Anyone who was monitored could either ask the police to prosecute, or sue for invasion of privacy, said Tait, an attorney at Carter-Ruck, a London law firm specializing in entertainment and media law. He said damages would be around a few thousand pounds unless victims were subject to sustained periods of eavesdropping, but it might help them find out which conversations were overheard.
Publicist Max Clifford, who The Guardian reported as a target, told the BBC he would consult a lawyer to decide whether to take action.
The Guardian claims that the News of The World recorded phone messages Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson and former Newcastle United manager Alan Shearer left on the mobile phone of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association
Some of the evidence emerged when the News of the World’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, was arrested and later jailed in January 2007 for hacking into the phones of palace officials,
The Guardian claimed the practice was widespread at the newspaper and that Goodman is not the only journalist to have done it. It says News of the World’s parent company News International paid out a million pounds in secret out-of-court settlements to people whose privacy had been invaded.
The Guardian said one of those settlements was a 700,000 pound payout to Taylor
Police said Thursday that the allegations had been thoroughly examined during the Goodman case and that they would not take the matter forward.
But the director of public prosecutions and the Press Complaints Commission both said they will look into the matter.
The Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee, made up of lawmakers from all parties, also said it will investigate the matter and may hold its first meeting next week. Its chairman John Whittingdale said the committee may quiz senior News International executives about the hacking.