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News of the World victims' lawyer calls for release of teapot tape

Tuesday 15 Nov 2011 3:02 p.m.

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By 3news.co.nz staff

A lawyer representing victims of the News of the World phone hacking scandal has weighed into New Zealand’s ‘teapot tape’ debate, defending the secret recording as “good journalism”.

Mark Lewis represents the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler along with others who claim their phones were hacked by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. 

He says the recorded conversation between Prime Minister John Key and ACT candidate John Banks should be made public.

“There is a difference between the News of the World hacking into someone's phone to find out private information and seemingly - whether accidental or on purpose - effectively a journalist investigating some political statement,” he says.

“That's something that is in the public interest and sounds like it should be reported without the unfavourable comparison to what was clearly a criminal act.”

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Mr Lewis says it would be different if the teapot tape recorded a private conversation unrelated to the election. 

“Something to do with the Prime Minister's health or his family situation… that really is nothing to do with anybody. If it's actually to do with how the country is governed then that's good journalism.”

Mr Lewis says the crux of the problem for the News of the World was “lazy journalism”.

“They were hacking people's phones to get cheap stories, there was no ethics or no morality of what they were doing […] this wasn't about finding a Watergate situation, this was just about finding out anything.”

He says Mr Key’s comparison to News of the World tactics was a “cheap shot” with little relevance to the British scandal.

An accurate parallel, he says, was former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who was inadvertently picked up on the campaign trail by a Sky News microphone describing a woman as “bigoted”.

“[He] carried on talking without realising he was still wired up to a microphone and saying something that might or might not have cost him the election.”

Rather than filing a police complaint, Mr Brown apologised to the woman and her family.

Mr Lewis says under English law the release of the tea tape would be very unlikely to lead to a prosecution. In fact he says the police “wouldn’t bother to open a file”.

“It would be very difficult to see, under English law, whether there would be a criminal offence, even if someone had deliberately left a camera running or a microphone running, having indicated that it wasn't running,” he says.

“Maybe under certain circumstances, if it was a deliberate action where you'd misled somebody, that might be effectively obtaining by deception. But it's very difficult to see how it could be.”

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