LONDON (Reuters) - The lawyer who helped bring down the News of the World after the phone-hacking scandal said on Wednesday he felt sorry for the paper’s readers because the problem was more widespread than one newspaper.
Mark Lewis, who represented the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, suggested the reason the News of the World, part of News Corp’s <NWSA.O) British newspaper arm, had been caught out was because its private detective had made notes about his hacking and had kept evidence.
“In a way I feel sorry for the News of the World, or certainly the News of the World readers, because it was a much more widespread practice than just one newspaper,” Lewis told a public inquiry at the High Court on Wednesday.
”It was simply that their enquiry agent, Glenn Mulcaire, had written things down, and kept the evidence.
“The fact that evidence doesn’t exist in written form doesn’t mean to say that the crime didn’t happen.”
The discovery that Dowler’s mobile phone had been hacked into while she was still missing shocked the nation and broadened a scandal that up until that point had largely involved celebrities and politicians.
Murdoch was forced to close the News of the World in July as companies began to pull adverts in a paper that had gained a reputation for breaking stories on the private lives of celebrities.
Rival titles have benefited from its demise, including the mid-market Daily Mail and its sister Mail on Sunday.
Earlier this week, actor Hugh Grant, star of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” told the hearing he suspected the Mail on Sunday newspaper of having hacked into his phone messages, something it strongly denied.
The paper’s publishing group Daily Mail & General Trust said on Wednesday, as it announced underlying 2011 sales were up 3 percent to 1.99 billion pounds, that it had not engaged in illegal newsgathering, to the best of the editor-in-chief’s knowledge.
Giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Lewis said reporters had found it too easy to hack into mobile phones.
“I mean, journalists found it too easy to do,” he said.
“I don’t think they necessarily thought of it as any worse -- certainly at the beginning -- than driving at 35 mph in a 30 mph zone.”
Private investigator Mulcaire was given a six-month prison term in 2007 for unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages. The News of the World’s royal reporter Clive Goodman was jailed for four months for listening to voicemail messages.
The inquiry, chaired by senior judge Brian Leveson, was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in July to look at media practices and ethics.
Expected to last a year, it will make recommendations that are likely to have a lasting impact on the industry, leading to a shake-up of the current system of self-regulation, or a tightening of the rules.
Additional reporting by Li-mei Hoang