US & Canada

Has phone-hacking scandal reached News Corp's doorstep?

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Media captionMark Lewis gave no clear details about who the alleged victims were

Has the phone-hacking scandal that shut down the News of the World spread across the Atlantic and arrived on the doorstep of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the parent company?

Not quite. But it will edge towards that if News International's antagonist, solicitor Mark Lewis, files lawsuits claiming that phone hacking took place on US soil.

News Corporation has its headquarters here in New York, on Sixth Avenue. Mr Lewis, the lawyer who represented the murder victim Milly Dowler's family, says he has three, possibly four, clients who have grounds for bringing phone-hacking claims here in the US.

These individuals are named in the now infamous notebook of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator employed by News of the World to monitor phone calls.

Who are they? At a press conference in New York on Thursday morning Mr Lewis would not say, citing their right to privacy. They never wanted to be a story, he told the BBC.

Yet more claims?

One is an American citizen, the others were on US soil when they believe their phones were hacked. Earlier speculation suggested one was from the world of sport, the other had a Hollywood connection, and one was previously linked to the Royal household.

Image caption Rupert Murdoch and his son James will testify before Britain's media ethics inquiry next week

Mark Lewis crossed the Atlantic for meetings in San Francisco and New York this week - consulting with American lawyers about how to proceed in filing lawsuits against the Murdoch media empire.

Norman Siegel, a prominent New York attorney who is working with Mr Lewis, says US law protects people's privacy rights relating to stored communication - like voicemails.

So when will these lawsuits alleging phone hacking be filed in the US? Mr Siegel says he won't give a specific timetable.

"The issues are sensitive. You have to be patient," he says, adding that six people in the US have called him since Monday wanting to discuss whether they might have a phone-hacking case.

Mark Lewis says the next stage is to ask the police in the UK for access to the papers and notebooks they're holding - like Glenn Mulcaire's - which could form the basis of a US lawsuit.

Rupert Murdoch's son James, who resigned from News International and BSkyB over the phone hacking scandal, and is now based at News Corporation in the US, is likely to face further scrutiny if lawsuits are filed here.

Questions have been raised over whether James Murdoch knew about an email which indicated phone hacking at the News of the World went beyond one rogue reporter. Rupert and James Murdoch will appear again before the UK's Leveson inquiry into press ethics next week.

To those who express scepticism about the phone-hacking lawsuits on this side of the Atlantic, Mark Lewis says it all started in Britain with just a few cases - and then snowballed.

Legal action here in the US against News Corporation could damage the company's reputation, and dismay shareholders who believed the scandal was confined to the News of the World.

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