Most importantly, is Mishcon de Reya, the firm that employs phone-hacking crusader Charlotte Harris on the list?
Last night, as the Daily Mail breathlessly reported early this morning, it emerged that 22 law firms have been implicated in the ‘secret’ phone hacking scandal, in which 102 bluechip companies – also including insurers and pharmaceutical companies – are alleged to have used the services of a network of shady private detectives.
The paper is now fervently wondering whether Mishcon de Reya, the firm that employs anti phone-hacking crusader Charlotte Harris – or ‘the blonde lawyer’ as the Mail refer to her – is on the list that was handed to the Commons Home Affairs Committee by the Serious Organised Crime Agency earlier this week. If it is, the reputational hit to both Mishcon and Harris herself will be huge.
Charlotte Harris was instrumental in exposing the press phone hacking scandal
Harris was instrumental in exposing the press phone hacking scandal that eventually led to the closure of the News of the World, and the Leveson Inquiry. She also sits on the board of the campaigning group Hacked Off!
How deeply embarrassing it would be, then, if Mishcon were to be on SOCA’s list. SOCA handed it over to the Commons Home Affairs Committee on the grounds that it be kept secret, but the committee’s chairman Keith Vaz is pushing hard for it to be made public. Quite right too; if journalists and papers can be named and publicly disgraced for illicit practices, why can’t law firms?
The Mail is not without reason to suspect Mishcon might pop up on the list. In 2006, Sharon and Stephen Anderson pleaded guilty to charges of obtaining information contrary to the Data Protection Act. At the time they were working for a detective agency called Carratu, who had been hired by Mishcon de Reya. A firm not named had given a businessman called David Hughes a loan, and instructed Mishcon to track his assets. Mishcon de Reya admitted to using Carratu's services, but said they didn't know about the Andersons' illegal methods.
The Andersons duly did so – but not by lawful methods. Mrs Anderson tricked a SKY TV call centre into disclosing Hughes’ bank details to her. When she pleaded guilty, with Stephen, to obtaining information unlawfully, the two did so on fifty similar counts.
Hughes hasn’t commented on the recent developments on SOCA’s secret list, but a business associate has been quoted in the Mail as saying, ‘David has said to me he thinks Mishcon are the biggest, meanest sons-of-bitches who walk the legal landscape. They fight so dirty it takes your breath away.’