Lawyer claims up to 7,000 phone-hack targets

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal could have affected thousands of people, it has been claimed.

Lawyer Charlotte Harris, who represents several of the celebrities involved, said up to 7,000 people may have had their mobile phone voicemail intercepted.

The claim comes as the News of the World yesterday publicly apologised to victims in the latest edition of the newspaper, saying: “Here today, we publicly and unreservedly apologise to all such individuals. What happened to them should not have happened. It was and remains unacceptable.”

Harris, whose clients include Sky Andrew, said the position for the football agent was the same as that of publicist Nicola Phillips and actress Sienna Miller – who have said that they would not accept a settlement from the newspaper until they had received full disclosure.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s The World This Weekend, she said: “What we have at the moment is an apology and an admission, having been working on this for a very long time. We haven’t even got near the truth yet.”

Discussing the number of phones which could have been hacked into, Harris said: “If you consider that if you hack into one person’s phone, you have access to everyone who has left a message for them. And then, if you go into the person who has left a message, you get all of theirs.

“You have got to be running into several thousand, just from that methodology. To put a figure on it, it is certainly not a handful – maybe 4,000, 6,000, 7,000 – a huge amount of people.”

There has been widespread condemnation of the phone-hacking, with Cabinet minister Danny Alexander describing it as “outrageous”.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, he said it was a “very serious scandal” and that court cases and the police investigation “must go forward”.

Shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain also stressed the importance of the police investigation, and added: “Who knows what they were up to really? This is a really serious media scandal.”

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has called for all newspaper editors to declare any phone hacking by their own staff, saying there needed to be “a general truth and reconciliation commission”.

Miller’s solicitor has said the actress will do everything possible to hold to account those responsible for the “outrageous violations of her privacy”. She has not accepted any offer of settlement and will “consider her next steps” once she has had information and disclosure from the News of the World, Mark Thomson said.

It is understood that along with Miller, the company has issued apologies to former culture secretary Tessa Jowell, her estranged husband lawyer David Mills and footballer turned broadcaster Andy Gray.

Andrew, Phillips and Joan Hammell, a former special adviser to Lord Prescott, are also believed to have received apologies through their solicitors.

News International said the move applied to allegations of voicemail hacking at the News of the World from 2004 to 2006.

Designer Kelly Hoppen is also understood to have been issued with an apology, although only for that time period, and not for a later claim.

No one else is understood to have received an apology – other notable figures who have pursued the matter through the courts, including Leslie Ash and Lord Prescott, are not thought to be covered by the admissions.

Former MP George Galloway, who said he had been shown proof that his phone had been hacked, has claimed the News of the World apology was a “cynical attempt to protect the company’s chief executive Rebekah Wade”.

The controversy has been a source of continuing embarrassment for News International at a time when its parent group, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has been seeking to take full control of BSkyB.

Earlier this week detectives investigating the allegations arrested the paper’s chief reporter and its former head of news. Neville Thurlbeck, 50, and Ian Edmondson, 42, were held by Scotland Yard detectives on Tuesday when they voluntarily attended separate police stations in south-west London.

The paper’s former editor Andy Coulson resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications in January as he said that the continuing row about the affair was making his job impossible.

Days later the Met launched a fresh investigation, codenamed Operation Weeting, after receiving “significant new information” from News International.

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