The News of the World commissioned surveillance against two lawyers to gain “leverage” against them in legal actions, former news editor for the paper Ian Edmondson has told the Leveson Inquiry.
Former NoW lawyer Tom Crone instructed the paper’s news editor to carry out surveillance on lawyers acting for phone-hacking victims, Edmondson claimed.
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It contradicts evidence given to the inquiry in December, when Crone claimed he had simply raised the matter the news editor ‘with a view to seeing whether it was practicable or possible”.
This was to discover the nature of the relationship between Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris and whether the former was leaking information to The Guardian, he said.
Crone said that when he raised the matter with Edmondson he was told they could hire private investigator Derek Webb to ‘have a look’at the pair – and that there was a ‘very clear difference’between asking the newsdesk for help in gathering facts and ‘commissioning private detectives”.
In written evidence to the inquiry Edmondson suggested that rather than simply asking whether the surveillance was “practicable or possible’he commissioned Webb ‘on the express instructions of Tom Crone”, who said he had a ‘great story’he wanted him to investigate relating to the pair.
“At the time I had to ask him who they were as I was not aware of them,’said Edmondson.
‘He told me that they were lawyers involved in phone hacking cases and that he suspected that they were having an affair and that confidential information was being passed back and forth between them in breach of their professional conduct rules and/or in breach of court rules generally.
‘My response to Mr Crone was to express very considerable surprise and to say that I could not begin to see why the newspaper would want to run such a story.
“Tom Crone’s response was that he accepted that (namely that it was unlikely material for inclusion in the newspaper as a story) but told me that the main reason to investigate was that it could provide the newspaper with good leverage against the two individuals.
‘This concerned me and I asked Tom Crone outright whether the editor, Colin Myler, knew that he (Tom Crone) was asking me to work on this and put Mr Webb onto it and Mr Crone’s response was that he (Mr Myler) did know.’
Edmondson was ‘not entirely happy about this’and told Crone he wanted an email to confirm that Myler was aware of the request.
‘To the best of my recollection, I wrote an email to Mr Crone asking him to confirm that Mr Myler knew about this instruction,and I received a response from Mr Crone saying that he did.’
Edmondson said that Crone specifically requested Webb because he was ‘good”, adding: “I specifically remember this because I recall that it sparked a brief debate between Tom Crone and me as to which budget the expenses of hiring Mr Webb should be allocated to,’he added.
‘ I asked whether this expense would be allocated to the legal department budget rather than the news desk budget. This was on the basis that this was a story that was being worked on for legal department reasons rather than because any story was ever likely to be published in the newspaper.”
The surveillance of the two lawyers took place in 2010.
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