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Mark Lewis: Hacking’s like speeding. You know it’s wrong, but you do it

He became famous for exposing the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. But lawyer Mark Lewis insists the press aren’t entirely to blame and there are still more ‘dirty tricks’ to uncover

    Mark Lewis with the Dowler family (Photo: Getty Images)
    Mark Lewis with the Dowler family (Photo: Getty Images)

    Mark Lewis steps on to a makeshift stage outside the Qatar embassy in central London.

    As a lawyer, he is well known for representing more than 120 victims of phone-hacking and exposing the News of the World’s role in the scandal.

    But today, he’s come to address a group of pro-Israel activists at an organised rally. Like them, he’s taking a stand against Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022, after accusations of funding terrorism, human rights abuses and bribery.

    A microphone is held in his direction, but he pushes it away. Raising his voice, Lewis tells the crowd: “Ordinary people must stand up and protest against the unification of corruption and terrorism.”

    With a little help, Lewis, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his twenties, affecting the right side of his body, steps off the stage.

    'Leveson's report is never going to be implemented'

    Deciding to postpone our interview, we catch up with protesters at a nearby pub. Coffee in hand, he voices strong opinions on Israeli policy, the role of UK Jewish leaders and even the JC. “It should be able to say things its readers don’t like. That’s a free press.”

    It’s a less-publicised side to Lewis, a 49-year-old father-of-four, who joined UK Lawyers for Israel as a director a few days before the rally. His communal interest, he says, runs deep.

    The confident Mancunian got into a few spats while defending Israel on Twitter. He has also highlighted issues affecting the British Jewish community, including antisemitism, on social media. In fact, he decided to become a solicitor after being attacked as a teenager while leaving his local BBYO youth club.

    Lewis, a partner at Taylor Hampton, is better known for fighting phone-hackings. He presented his findings to a Commons committee and later the Leveson Inquiry. He represented high-profile clients from Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s former butler, to the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked after her death. The Dowler case caught the public’s attention. “People tend to think, wrongly, that celebrities earn so much money, that you have a right to know their life,” he says.

    At our second meeting in Orli Cafe in Hendon, Lewis says that what he achieved as part of the phone-hacking scandal, came as a surprise.

    Lewis in his famed orange Zara coat, which he attributes to his
    Lewis in his famed orange Zara coat, which he attributes to his "different" style

    In 2009, his assets were down, he was representing a handful of clients and he had no secretary to help him.

    Depressed, he considered making aliyah. Two years later, he received a call from Sally Dowler and took on her case on a no-win, no-fee basis.

    Working from 6am to 2am for weeks, he proved that Milly’s phone was one of 6,000 that had been hacked.

    He says: “I don’t put the blame at the doors of the newspapers. They did what they could get away with. It’s a bit like driving 35mph in a 30 zone — you know it’s wrong, but you do it.

    “Instead of paying thousands of pounds for a story, you got it for free.

    “But I had all the basic organs of the state against me. The biggest selling newspaper, the biggest police force and the House of Commons. They all had each other’s back – that’s not a free press.

    “They were trying to shut down what was happening.”

    In the wake of public outrage, Rupert Murdoch shut down the 168-old News of the World. He also apologised to the Dowler family, according to Lewis.

    Surprisingly, Lewis regrets that the case has come to define his career.

    He says: “It annoys me for all sorts of reasons. I hated being known as the ‘Dowler family lawyer’. It makes me sound like a family lawyer who does divorce in a little place in Chelmsford. You sound like you’ve done one case.

    “Actually, I’ve done a number of milestone cases which have all been thought of with my brain over the years, which have got people a lot of money. It’s not the biggest or most important case I’ve ever done. You have to be very careful not to be pigeonholed.

    “In terms of things you can achieve, closing the News of the World is pretty big. The point is, it’s not the only thing I do as a lawyer. But it’s what I became known for doing.”

    Today, Lewis continues to represent more than 100 clients, many phone-hacking victims going after settlements against UK tabloids.

    But he says there are “dirty tricks” also going on in corporations, that should be uncovered.

    “It’s like peeling an onion,” he adds. “We’re finding out more and more. We found out that this was happening in lots of fields — commerce, banking, insurance companies — which has never really been investigated.

    “There’s the commercial world to sort out. Not just phone-hacking, all sorts of dirty tricks.”

    Does Lewis think Lord Leveson’s report has accomplished much? “No, I don’t think it’s done anything whatsoever. Leveson has done his report, it’s never been implemented, it’s never going to be implemented.

    “At the general election next year, no one is going to have it in their manifesto — there are more important things happening in the world.”

    For someone who put the media under the microscope, Lewis seems to court press attention.

    The cousin of finance journalist Martin Lewis, he believes the media still has a key role to play.

    “The press is there to keep a check on democracy. If you have a newspaper organisation that says to police or parliament, ‘we’re not going to say this about you’ — then there’s a problem. It’s a symbol of a totalitarian regime.”

    Now living in north-west London, Lewis is juggling legal cases with communal agendas.

    “I find myself agreeing with Rupert Murdoch more and more about things to do with Israel, which worries me to a certain extent,” he says.

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