Letter from London, Media and Journalism, Privacy, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Letter from London: ‘Privacy Is For Paedos’

“Privacy is for paedos,” announced tabloid journalist Paul McMullan, formerly of Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct British tabloid News of the World, while speaking last week at an enquiry set up in response to this summer’s phone hacking scandal. Firmly unapologetic for having harassed celebrities via an impressive range of mediums, McMullan continued: “Fundamentally, no one else needs it. Privacy is evil.” He fast became the villain of what the Financial Times has dubbed as “the best free show in London.”

As for the heroes, well, none of the celebrities who have given evidence so far — including Divine Brown blow jobee Hugh Grant, comedian Steve Coogan, author JK Rowling, and Tony Blair’s former press secretary Alastair Campbell — have shone particularly. Most of the army of lawyers in attendance, meanwhile, have been, well, lawyerly.

Notably, one junior lawyer at the enquiry, Carine Patry Hoskins, did steal the show for a few hours last month, albeit on account of her good looks rather than any show of heroism, when she became one of the world’s most popular topics on Twitter during the Hugh Grant’s testimony. Having caught the attention of Tweeters, the attractive brunette was given the hashtag #womanontheleft — which quickly shot to most read thread in the U.K., before trending prominently worldwide….

In an indication of how seriously the British tabloid press are treating the enquiry, The Mirror seized on the Hoskins furore as an opportunity to explore one of the key issues being explored, privacy. It did this by publishing “Ten things you should know about the ‘woman on the left’…,” including this fascinating tit bit of information: “Before [Hoskins] commenced her practice in the U.K., she worked at the New York State Defenders Association.” (You can read the bio of Carine Patry Hoskins, which includes her photo, at the Landmark Chambers website.)

Anyway, forget #womanontheleft. For the two of you who made it past the jump, you’ll be glad to know that this lead-in has been a primer for a tale about the exception to the lawyers-are-boring rule. There is a white tiger at the Leveson enquiry, a rock star lawyer whose heroic story is straight out of a John Grisham novel.

In 2008, Mark Lewis, the lawyer for the phone-hacking victims, including the family of Milly Dowler (a murdered teenager who had her phone hacked by the nice chaps at the News of the World, precipitating this summer’s uprising against Murdoch), was a successful libel lawyer in Manchester, a relatively sleepy city in northern England, with a growing interest in the murky world of tabloid phone-hacking.

A year later, Lewis split up from his wife and lost his job. At which point, the head of the U.K. press regulator accused him of misleading parliament for a claim he’d made that 6,000 people had been affected by phone-hacking. Lewis drifted, doing bits of part-time work. As recently as April this year, he was contemplating quitting law altogether.

Then, having found a job in a small London media law firm called Taylor Hampton, Lewis got a voicemail message from the phone-hacked Dowler family, who were looking for legal representation. He took them on, on a no-win-no-fee basis; the case went stratospheric; and Lewis won big. Rupert Murdoch has agreed to pay the Dowler’s £3m in compensation. Lewis’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing since, and the police have even been forced to admit he was right about his earlier claim that 6,000 people were affected by phone-hacking.

Lewis, who has multiple sclerosis, summarised the incredibleness of it all to the London Evening Standard last month:

“You’ve got News Corp, you’ve got News International, you’ve got News Group Newspapers, News of the World, you’ve got Farrer & Co, you’ve got Linklaters, you’ve got Olswang’s, you’ve got Clifford Chance, you’ve got so many of the big law firms on this, and then on the other side you’ve got me. I haven’t even got a f**king secretary, I’ve got one hand and, you know, if I had two hands I’d tie one behind my back because they need a head start.”

Alex Aldridge is Above the Law’s U.K. correspondent. He also writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is the Editor of Legal Cheek. Previously Alex was Associate Editor of Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeUK or email him at alex@legalcheek.com.

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