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SDT clears News of the World lawyer of spying claims

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has dismissed claims against Farrier & Co partner Julian Pike, a solicitor accused of advising News International that it should spy on lawyers who were acting for victims of phone hacking.

Pike, who is Farrer & Co’s head of reputation management, was accused of instructing the publisher of the now-defunct News of the World to spy on high-profile representatives for victims of phone hacking Charlotte Harris and Mark Lewis who worked at Taylor Hampton and Mishcon de Reya respectively at the time.

According to the ruling, Pike had sent a 2010 email to Tom Crone, his primary contact at News International, describing Harris and Lewis as ‘deeply untrustworthy.’

The tribunal said: ‘While it was correct that surveillance was not illegal, absent exceptional circumstances, the spectre of solicitors carrying out surveillance on each other was repugnant.’

However, the SDT’s ruling stated: ‘The tribunal was not satisfied to the required standard that the respondent had failed to behave in a way that maintained the trust the public placed in him.’

It added that in the circumstances the tribunal could not be sure to the requisite standard that the decision to advise News of the World to mount surveillance was made without proper justification.

The decision brings to an end a long investigation, which initially started in December 2011 following a complaint made by Lewis to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Despite dismissing the charges against Pike, the SDT ordered that Pike should pay £20,000 in costs. The ruling asserted that Pike had not brought the proceedings before himself, but he should pay costs due to the proceedings being ‘in the public interest’ and that the £20,000 sum was a ‘modest contribution.’

Pike told Legal Business: ‘I am obviously pleased that this matter is now behind me. As a litigator, while you may know what the right outcome should be, there is never any such guarantee.

‘On this occasion, the right conclusion has been reached. However, it’s disappointing the process should take five years. Such delay should be unacceptable.

‘The decision on costs can only be described as bizarre given the tribunal made no criticism of me and found I did not bring the matter on myself. I have been advised that I have a very strong argument in favour of an appeal which is under consideration.’

A Farrer spokesperson added: ‘He can now put the stress of the past five years behind him and concentrate on building his practice.’

Read more in the feature: ‘Shock and Flaw – is Leveson workable?’