Phone-hacking scandal spreads as MP accuses 'Sunday Mirror'
Questions over over the extent of phone hacking in the newspaper industry spread for the first time beyond the News of the World yesterday, as a former MP claimed that stories about his private life that appeared in the Sunday Mirror were based on intercepted voicemails.
Paul Marsden, who was a serving Member of Parliament when articles appeared about the state of his marriage in 2003, spoke publicly about the "sequence of events" which he said led him to believe that his mobile phone had been targeted, including an alleged incident where he said someone posing as a police officer attempted to obtain information about him.
Lawyers for the former politician, who left Parliament in 2005, have written to Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Sunday Mirror, detailing their claims relating to two stories focusing on Mr Marsden's adulterous relationships. One of the pieces was headlined: "Exclusive: Latest sordid secret of Lib-Dem love cheat."
The case is one of four breach of privacy claims being brought by the solicitor Mark Lewis which involve newspaper groups beyond Rupert Murdoch's News International. As well as Mr Marsden, they involve a female soap star who says she was approached by a police force, not Scotland Yard, and warned that her phone may have been hacked.
The proceedings bring to the fore longstanding allegations that hacking the voicemails of public figures using PIN codes to access messages was rife among Fleet Street titles since the late 1990s, and was not restricted to the News of the World.
News International stressed this week that it was fully investigating the claims of hacking, which is thought to involve the analysis of thousands of internal emails. Senior executives have long privately complained that the News of the World has been unfairly singled out.
A 2006 report by the Information Commissioner into a thriving black market in personal data found that titles owned by Trinity Mirror, including the Sunday Mirror, were among the most prolific customers of a private detective who specialised in illegally obtaining information, including mobile phone data and criminal records from the police national computer.
Mr Marsden told The Independent yesterday that he had stepped down from his Shrewsbury seat because of the revelations about his personal life.
He said: "I never had any allegations that I was a bad constituency MP but, in effect, I was forced to step down, because I never knew what was coming next: in 2003 there weren't just strange goings-on with my mobile phone but there was somebody impersonating a police officer trying to discover my whereabouts, which caused great distress to people close to me.
"Someone was getting information from secure telephones and that massively undermined trust and caused a huge amount of upset and heartache... It is hugely important that a democratically elected MP can talk with complete security to a constituent or a cabinet minister and know that that information can remain confidential."
The former MP is understood to be complaining about revelations which led to him admitting a number of affairs in 2003, including a relationship with an unnamed political journalist. Mr Marsden said that he had been researching his claim for 18 months, adding that he was collating evidence from his mobile phone company and friends who were approached by reporters equipped with personal information about him.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Over those 18 months we have put together evidence which brings the only reasonable conclusion now that my phone was indeed hacked. That evidence comes from witnesses who can verify it. It also comes from the phone records."
The politician said part of his case involved a Trinity Mirror reporter who moved to the News of the World in 2005, at the time when Andy Coulson was the paper's editor. In a statement, Mr Marsden said: "I understand that the reporter was suspended last year in respect of hacking carried out for that paper last year."
Scotland Yard last night confirmed that the News of the World had approached it in September 2010 and handed over information about phone hacking relating to the suspended member of staff.
Mr Marsden, whose claim is being brought against the Sunday Mirror and not individual journalists, has not yet provided full evidence of his allegations to the newspaper. Unlike the proceedings against the News of the World, it is not known whether any documentary evidence exists linking the newspaper to the activities of private investigators.
In a statement, the Mirror Group said: "Trinity Mirror's position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct."
How Paul Marsden hit the headlines
7 December 2003
Headline I helped wimpish MP then he stole my wife – latest sordid secret of Lib Dem love cheat
Story Allegations are made that Paul Marsden "stole" his wife, Shelly, from a Huddersfield-based financial adviser by conducting an affair with her while she was still married.
23 November 2003
Headline: MP: I've cheated on my wife... I'm sorry; Labour turncoat admits his romps with two women
Story Mr Marsden, a father-of-two, is quoted admitting that he cheated on his wife by conducting a six-month affair with a political journalist.