London’s Metropolitan Police lost a bid to end a lawsuit claiming they defamed a lawyer representing celebrities whose phone messages were hacked by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper.
The police, which are investigating the hacking, must go to trial over attorney Mark Lewis’s claims they wrongfully implied he was a liar when contradicting testimony he gave to a parliamentary committee in 2009, Judge Michael Tugendhat ruled today at the High Court in London.
“The words complained of are capable of being understood in the meaning attributed to them by Mr. Lewis,” Tugendhat said in the judgment. “Whether that is what they meant is another question and will be determined at the trial.”
At the hearing, Lewis recounted a conversation outside a London courtroom in 2007 or 2008, in which a police detective said as many as 6,000 phones may have been hacked. Police Commissioner John Yates said at the same committee hearing that “a handful” of people may have had their phones hacked and not been made aware by authorities.
The ruling is the latest development in a scandal triggered by News of the World’s former royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator employed by the News Corp. (NWSA:US) newspaper, Glen Mulcaire, who were both jailed five years ago for hacking into the voicemails of members of the royal household.
Since then, more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the newspaper and police have been sued for failing to disclose evidence from an earlier probe. The police haven’t officially said how many phones may have been hacked.
Lewis, who represented soccer executive Gordon Taylor in a lawsuit over hacking and currently represents other celebrities in similar cases, said police tried to “brush him aside” and “bad-mouth him.”
“The police attempted to bring my case to an end and therefore stop the truth from getting out,” Lewis said outside court. “They thought I’d just roll over.”
Tugendhat ordered the police to pay 20,000 pounds ($32,100) of Lewis’s initial legal costs in the case. A date for trial wasn’t scheduled.
A police spokesman, who declined to be identified, said he couldn’t comment on today’s ruling because the litigation is ongoing. The spokesman also declined to comment on behalf of Yates.
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