Gascoigne to sue as phone-hack scandal grows

LONDON - Former England soccer star Paul Gascoigne is to become the latest celebrity to sue the News of the World newspaper, alleging he was a victim of a phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

His solicitor, Gerald Shamash, confirmed yesterday that proceedings would be issued within days.

Shamash claimed that Gascoigne was in a vulnerable mental state and that his recovery had been hindered because of the stress of believing that his phone had been hacked.

"It has made things even more difficult for his general wellbeing," he said.

Gascoigne has been fighting drink and drug problems for years and has been in and out of rehabilitation clinics.

Comedian Steve Coogan has also issued proceedings and Chris Tarrant, a television presenter, and jockey Kieren Fallon are expected to launch legal actions soon.

There are now at least five law firms representing alleged victims of phone hacking.

Lawyers have confirmed they expect more claims to be filed in the next few weeks.

So far, four people have settled claims against the paper before they reached court, including celebrity publicist Max Clifford.

The increasing number of people who are suing or threatening to sue has raised fresh questions about how widespread the practice of phone hacking was on the newspaper while it was edited by Andy Coulson, now the Prime Minister's director of communications.

Senior executives on the paper say the practice was the work of a rogue reporter, Clive Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 for his part in the scandal. But many believe hundreds or even thousands of phones were hacked by a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, while he was working for the paper.

Questions are being asked about the role of the London Metropolitan Police, which was obliged by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to inform suspected victims that their phones had been hacked.

Paul Farrelly, MP, a member of the parliamentary culture, media and sport select committee that conducted an investigation into the allegations, said he was concerned the Met had adopted a new policy towards requests for information from suspected victims.

Previously someone could request that the Met scour its files to establish whether their phone had been hacked. Now Scotland Yard asks for a suspected victim to outline on what grounds they believe their phone has been hacked before making a search.

Scotland Yard has confirmed that there were 91 individuals whose pin numbers, for their mobile phone message services, were found in material seized from Mulcaire.

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced that the CPS had agreed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of all material held by Scotland Yard relating to phone hacking.

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