Jolie's former stunt double sues over hacking claim

Eunice Huthart has launched legal proceedings over alleged phone hacking. Photo / Independent
Eunice Huthart has launched legal proceedings over alleged phone hacking. Photo / Independent

The British former stunt double of Hollywood star Angelina Jolie is the first of six people to formally launch legal proceedings against Rupert Murdoch's media empire in America over alleged phone hacking.

Eunice Huthart, a former star of the Gladiators television show who went on to become a stunt specialist in the US film industry, has lodged a damages claim in California.

While previous hacking civil actions have been limited to Mr Murdochs UK print businesses, the first of the new group of claims has targeted the global company of the Murdoch empire, News Corp, which has its headquarters in New York.

The allegations, contained in a lengthy document lodged in a Californian district court, claim that Ms Huthart's mobile phone messages were eavesdropped to obtain stories published in both The Sun and the News of the World.

She was living and working alongside Ms Jolie in Los Angeles when the alleged hacking took place between 2004 and 2005.

The lawsuit is a significant blow for Mr Murdoch as his companies attempts to draw a line under the substantial financial damages that have already been inflicted as a result of the phone hacking scandal in Britain.

Compensation payouts and legal fees related to the affair have far cost Mr Murdochs News Corp at least $340m. The potential of a US court to award punitive damages - which are difficult to obtain in an English court - could see the level of settlements rise beyond the UK figures, reaching millions of dollars.

The Independent understands that Ms Hutharts case is the first of six high-profile cases which will be lodged directly against News Corp in its US heartland in the coming weeks.

Reputational damage will be a major concern for News Corp shareholders. The firm is currently preparing to hive off its struggling publishing division into a separate firm and to rename the lucrative entertainment division.

As well as filing for statutory damages under both Californian and US laws, Ms Huthart and her New York-based lawyers, Siegel Teitelbaum and Evans, are seeking punitive damages against News Corp and its British newspaper subsidiaries News International and News Group Newspapers.

News Corp this week denied claims it is poised to pay a record fine of up to $850m to settle a US Department of Justice investigation into claims illegal newsgathering techniques in the UK violated Americas stringent Foreign Corrupt Practices legislation.

The claim by Ms Huthart, who comes from Liverpool, alleges that her cellular telephone system was repeatedly accessed by unnamed private investigators and the data passed to unnamed journalists between 2004 and 2005 when she was living in LA.

Legal documents filed with the US District Court in California claim the hacking coincided with a period when Ms Huthart was sharing a house with Ms Jolie and her personal assistant while they were working on the hit spy film Mr & Mrs Smith, starring the actress and Brad Pitt.

Ms Huthart began her journey to Hollywood in 1994 when she appeared as a contestant on ITVs Gladiators and won the series, later joining the show as a professional. She then transferred her talents into stunt work, appearing in the James Bond film GoldenEye before heading to America.

The claim alleges information obtained from Ms Hutharts mobile phone while she was working in the States led to the publication of two stories in The Sun and one in the defunct News of the World in April and May 2005.

News Group Newspapers, the Murdoch subsidiary which publishes The Sun, previously denied the daily tabloid carried out phone hacking.

Mark Lewis, the British solicitor, who along with other lawyers played a key role in exposing the full extent of the hacking scandal, is acting as legal adviser to Ms Huthart and her American attorneys.

Mr Lewis is also acting for other British celebrities, including David Beckham and Princess Dianas former butler Paul Burrell, who believe their phones may have been targeted while in America.

A News Corp spokeswoman in London said the company had no comment to make on the US court action.

- Independent

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