April 18th, 2012
01:35 AM GMT
New York (CNN) – Don’t look now, but the phone hacking scandal that shuttered the British tabloid “News of the World” and cost James Murdoch his job at BSkyB is about to hit stateside - at least if Mark Lewis has his way.
The UK lawyer who represents alleged victims of phone hacking, including the family of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, is in New York this week meeting with lawyers and exploring legal options against parent company News Corp.
Lewis, who represents three to four people – one believed to be an American citizen and one person from the world of sport – says his clients phones were hacked while they were on U.S soil. The incidents are linked to alleged hacking that took place at the “News of the World,” but when I sat down with Lewis in New York, he was quite clear he believes the problem is much more widespread.
Lewis was careful to say he does not have any hard evidence right now that phone hacking occurred at any other News Corp. publication, but he believes this new round of legal action may in fact uncover more wrongdoing.
“It seems uncanny that you would say the only detectives were this one in America and Glenn Mulcaire (in the UK) and News of the World was the only newspaper. If one house gets burgled and one burglar gets caught that doesn’t mean he is the only burglar, it just means he is the only burglar that got caught.”
Lewis’ plan to move forward with legal action is being watched closely by investors. To date, stock owners have largely stood by the company, believing that the phone hacking problems were isolated to the UK. If any evidence turns up that it happened at the media conglomerate’s U.S. outlets, it would be a game changer.
News Corp. would not comment for this story. Critics say Lewis is pursuing a case in the U.S. to tap the deeper pockets of parent company News Corp., which is based here. But Lewis says this is about something more.
“This is not about an individual. It is also not about money for people. For the most part the people who instruct me, they want to know the truth. They want to find out what happened.”
News Corp. has paid out millions of dollars in settlements to phone hacking victims, including a reported $4 million to the Dowler family. But pursuing the media giant has also come with costs for Mark Lewis. At the height of the UK investigation, he says reporters from “News of the World” put him and his family under surveillance. Lewis was fired from at least one law firm and turned down for jobs at others, he said.
I asked if he was afraid of the consequences of pushing this legal battle to on to U.S. soil.
“My job as a lawyer is to stand up for the client and therefore I am not scared of Murdoch. That is what you do, you stand up, you tell the truth and you hope not to take a personal risk, but sometimes you have to,” he said.
Though I have been swapping emails with Lewis for months, this is the first time I met him in person. He is unusually frank for a lawyer. He has overcome a lot of obstacles, fought hard to get where he is and still has an outsider’s edge. In a strange way I think he and Murdoch would get along quite well if they met under different circumstances.
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