The Sun is facing at least 11 phone-hacking claims after failing to get civil litigation thrown out at a pre-trial stage.
No Sun journalists have ever been arrested on suspicion of phone-hacking.
But it is alleged that The Sun illegally breached the privacy of actor Jude Law, former British Olympics Association chief executive Simon Clegg and footballer Wayne Rooney.
Lawyers have also cited articles about convicted rapist Iorworth Hoare, murderer David McGreavey and paedophile Robert Excell – all published in 2005 and 2006 – to support the case.
News Group Newspapers has settled more than 800 hacking claims against the News of the World so far.
There are around 50 fresh News of the World privacy claimants, some of whom wish to extend their litigation to include The Sun. The claimants include: Clegg, EastEnders actors Christopher Parker and Brooke Kinsella, Coronation Street actor Kym Marsh (pictured: Shutterstock), designer Pearl Lowe and her musician husband Danny Goffey and comedian Les Dennis
Lawyers for the claimants argue that because several individuals known to have been involved in hacking also worked for The Sun, it follows that The Sun also used the practice.
The Sun has provided “a large number” of witness statements from reporters to demonstrate cited stories were obtained lawfully.
He reported a “significant amount of suspicious activity as regards not only the use of his mobile telephone and missing messages, but also the fact that private information was appearing in the media for which there was no legitimate explanation”.
The claimants also cite Sun articles about footballer Wayne Rooney and his association with prostitute Patricia Tierney (although Rooney is not involved in the litigation).
Convicted hacker Glenn Mulcaire has said that a page in one of his notebooks has the word “Sun” on it and a reference to a sum of money, which he said was his fee. It also lists an address which was relevant to the Rooney story.
Another convicted hacker, former News of the World journalist Greg Miskiw, was working for a news agency at the time some of the relevant Sun stories appeared.
He has given evidence that he tasked Mulcaire with working for The Sun.
The judge said: “The overall effect of this evidence is that there is some evidence of Mr Mulcaire’s involvement, and of phone-hacking being involved, and of Mr Mulcaire carrying out his activities for the Sun.”
It is also alleged that Mulcaire was instructed to carry out research for stories about criminals Hoare, McGreavy and Excell.
The judge said: “On the basis of the totality of the evidence it is not possible to rule out the involvement of Mr Mulcaire in obtaining some material. It all depends on what he did, when he did it and for whom he did it.
“It can, however, be said that as it stands, these particular instances are only very weak evidence in support of the key allegation, which is that Sun journalists routinely hacked phones and engaged in other unlawful activity.”
In the case of a Sun story about Jude Law, the claimants argue that the information was likely to have come as a result of illegal activity because “senior executives of the Sun moved from News of the World, where hacking also went on, and brought knowledge of the practices to the Sun.” The judge said: “In evidential terms this Jude Law instance is very weak.”
He said: “The overall effect of this analysis is that the particular instances of the extension of the Mulcaire arrangement which are pleaded are overall weak, but cannot be totally dismissed.”
Sean Hoare, worked as a reporter at the Sun between 1990 and 2001, died in 2011.
But he told his brother that “hacking was a daily occurence” at The Sun and particularly identified former Bizarre showbiz column editor Dominic Mohan as being involved in the practice.
Claimants are also relying on a draft witness statement written by Hoare which “makes clear statements to the effect that phone-hacking occurred at the Sun, and implicates journalists including Mr Andy Coulson”.
Miskiw has said that he was asked to listen to the voicemail messages of Heather Mills by Sun associate editor Geoff Webster in April 2006
The Sun will now be compelled to hand over internal emails and other data as part of the disclosure process. But the judge said: “There will have to be limits. It may be that practicalities mean that the scope of the generic case investigations are much more limited than the claimants would hope for.”
Articles cited by the complainants include pieces written in the late nineties by Sean Hoare private phone calls between celebrities including Liam Gallagher, Patsy Kensit and Martine McCutcheon.
The claimants also make reference to Dominic Mohan’s public comment in 2002 that “Vodafone’s lack of security” led to the Mirror’s showbusiness exclusives, “which received an enormous laugh” at the Shafta awards.
Joint executive director of the campaign group Hacked Off Evan Harris said: “While it is true that there not yet direct ‘smoking gun”’evidence of hacking at the Sun as there was for the News of the World, the threshold for allowing claims to proceed does not require this. The very nature of these claims is that the activity was concealed and has since been covered up. So the claimants will simply not know, prior to legal ‘disclosure’, very much of what really happened.
“It should be remembered that the first cases against the Mirror were allowed to proceed on this basis – arguably with less direct evidence than here. Disclosure revealed extensive hacking.”