The phone hacking scandal that led to the resignation of David Cameron’s communications chief widened today as a media lawyer revealed it now involves newspapers other than the News of the World.
Mark Lewis, who acted for Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association in a damages claim against the NOTW, said he was representing four people who believe they were targeted by other newspapers.
He said phone hacking was used by several publications, and that one of the four claims was being made by a journalist.
“This was almost kids’ play time. It was such a widespread practice,” said Mr Lewis.
“Although it is a crime, people were regarding it as though it was driving at 35mph in a 30, that you just sort of do it and hope you don’t get caught.”
Former NOTW editor Andy Coulson resigned as the Prime Minister’s head of communications saying the drip-drip of claims about illegal eavesdropping under his editorship meant he could not “give the 110% needed”.
“I stand by what I’ve said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman it’s time to move on,” he added.
Mr Cameron said he was “very sorry” Mr Coulson felt “compelled” to go after months of intense pressure, insisting he was being “punished for the same offence twice”.
However, Labour frontbencher Chris Bryant said he hoped the Metropolitan Police would now conduct a thorough investigation into the phone hacking.
“To say this is long overdue is an understatement. Andy Coulson should never have been appointed in the first place,” he said.
“I hope now finally that the police will be able to conduct the full, transparent, and thorough inquiry into phone hacking that we are still waiting for and that the murky truth will come to light.”
It is understood Mr Coulson informed the Prime Minister of his intention to leave on Wednesday evening. No decision has yet been taken on a replacement.
Mr Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 after the paper’s former royal editor, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for phone hacking.
Although he accepted ultimate responsibility for the illegal activities, he has always denied knowing they were taking place. A Scotland Yard investigation resulted in no further charges.
But a number of public figures are still taking civil legal action against the newspaper, and documents disclosed in those cases have sparked fresh developments.
It emerged earlier this month that News of the World executive Ian Edmondson has been suspended as a result of claims in a case brought by actress Sienna Miller.
Police subsequently wrote to the newspaper asking for any new evidence staff had on the case.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has asked a senior QC to “comprehensively” re-examine material amassed as part of the original inquiry and any new evidence.
In his resignation statement, Mr Coulson said: “Nothing is more important than the Government’s task of getting this country back on its feet.
“Unfortunately continued coverage of events connected to my old job at the News of the World has made it difficult for me to give the 110% needed in this role.
“I stand by what I’ve said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman it’s time to move on.”
Speaking to reporters later, Mr Cameron said he had done an “excellent, excellent job” as his communications chief, and was being “punished for the same offence twice” following his earlier resignation as the paper’s editor.
However, Labour leader Ed Miliband said it raised “real questions about David Cameron’s judgment that he hung on to Andy Coulson for so long”.