Leveson Inquiry: Spied-on lawyer tells of concerns
- 6 December 2011
- From the section UK
A lawyer has told the Leveson Inquiry that she was put under surveillance in a bid to discredit solicitors for alleged victims of phone hacking.
Documents relating to the surveillance had mentioned her children, Charlotte Harris told the media ethics inquiry.
A Guardian journalist defended his hacking of an arms company executive's voicemail as "perfectly ethical".
Another witness told the inquiry, in London, how he had warned of a mobile phone security loophole back in 1999.
But salesman Steven Nott said his warnings to a mobile phone firm, newspaper and the authorities had been repeatedly ignored.
Ms Harris, of law firm Mishcon de Reya, has represented phone-hacking victims including celebrity couple Leslie Ash and Lee Chapman and sports agent Sky Andrew. In 2010, the News of the World hired a private detective to follow her and fellow victims' lawyer Mark Lewis.
She told the inquiry that she had seen documents relating to the surveillance that "contain comments on my private life and that of my family ... and further emails about the price of obtaining information relating to my children, then aged two and four".
She said it was natural as a mother to feel "terribly uncomfortable" about the idea of people investigating her children. The experience of being spied on had also given her an insight into her clients' lives, she said.
"One of the difficulties with surveillance, and I hear this from clients but I also speak for myself, is you don't really know what happened when.
"It is what you don't know that can cause stress. That in itself might be a new form of harassment to look into."
Ms Harris went on: "There can be no justification for this conduct. The motive was to attempt to discredit those solicitors who were conducting the phone hacking cases.
"The reports were prepared in order to find a way of stopping us acting in these cases."
Law 'not enforced'
David Leigh, the Guardian's investigations editor, was asked about the hacking of the voicemail of an arms company executive that he had previously admitted to carrying out while "looking for evidence of bribery and corruption".
He told the inquiry: "I don't hack phones normally. I have never done anything like that since and I had never done anything like that before.
"On that particular occasion, this minor incident did seem to me perfectly ethical."
Mr Leigh said he had never knowingly been in breach of criminal law.
"I'd like to think if the incident came to the attention of the DPP (Department of Public Prosecutions) and I was asked about it, the DPP would conclude there was no public interest in suing me and that's the backstop that the law has got."
Mr Leigh said the Guardian's culture was supposed to be ethical, candid and open-minded. He said he understood that tabloid culture was different. "There's a climate of 'anything goes'; there's a climate of almost delighting in roguery."
"You have to make people fear the law," he said. He said most of the areas of concern raised at the inquiry were crimes and that the issue that had been circled around was that "the law is not enforced".
The inquiry also heard how Mr Nott, from Cwmbran, in Torfaen, realised how mobile phone voicemails could be accessed using a default Pin code after Vodafone told him how to access his own messages remotely.
He said he asked Vodafone whether the default Pin system meant he could access anyone's voicemail, and was told, "Yes you can, but you're not supposed to."
He told the inquiry he subsequently rang Vodafone on numerous occasions but "kept getting fobbed off all the time".
He said he told the Daily Mirror about it, was told the newspaper had been ringing around testing his claims and that he was given the impression they would publish an article on it.
Mr Nott said that, after discovering they were not going to run the story, he became concerned that they would use the information to access phones themselves.
"I then accused (reporter) Oonagh Blackman over the phone of possibly keeping that information to themselves for that purpose," Mr Nott told the inquiry. He said she in turn threatened him with legal action if he went public with the information he had shared with the newspaper.
Mr Nott said he contacted Scotland Yard and organisations including MI5 and the National Council of Civil Liberties about the security loophole.
He said eventually he went to BBC Radio 5 live, who broadcast a short story in 1999.
Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry is looking at the "culture, practices and ethics of the media" and whether the self-regulation of the press works.