By William Maclean
LONDON (Reuters) - A former Scotland Yard detective plans to sue publishers of the News of the World for harassment and hacking his phone while he was investigating a high-profile axe murder, their lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mark Lewis, a lawyer for the policeman, Dave Cook, and for his wife Jacqui Hames, told Reuters he believed the planned suit against News Group Newspapers would be the first action against the now-defunct weekly for the physical trailing and electronic surveillance of a police officer by journalists working for it.
The case is particularly sensitive for the paper, since the man accused of the axe murder, in 1987, later worked for the News of the World as an investigator.
"The suit will seek damages for both him and Jacqui Hames for hacking into his phone and for harassment," Lewis said in brief remarks by telephone.
Asked for the cash value of the damages sought, Lewis replied: "It's an unlimited claim."
"The court proceedings haven't been issued yet. They are about to be issued. Letters before action have been sent," he said, adding he was also pursuing the suit on behalf of Cook's wife Hames, who had also been followed.
Letters before action is a legal term referring to a letter written by a lawyer stating a grievance on behalf of a client and giving a defendant the chance to make redress before the aggrieved party launches a lawsuit.
There was no immediate reply from News International to e-mailed and telephoned requests for comment.
The alleged harassment occurred when Cook was leading an investigation into the murder of Daniel Morgan, for which Jonathan Rees, Morgan's then business partner, was later charged.
Morgan was found dead with an axe embedded in his head in a pub car park in south London in 1987. Investigated for 24 years, it became one of Britain's longest murder inquiries.
Rees has emerged as a key figure in the News of the World affair because former editor Andy Coulson has been reported to have hired him as an investigator in 2005.
After Coulson resigned in 2007 following the conviction of one of his reporters and an investigator for phone hacking, Prime Minister David Cameron hired him as his communications director, an act that critics say calls the Conservative leader's judgment into serious question. Coulson resigned from the prime minister's office in January.
Rees had also worked between 1993 and 2000 as an investigator for the News of the World and other publications.
After a long legal process that involved five inquiries the case against Rees collapsed in March this year when prosecutors said important evidence had not been disclosed to the defense.
Cook retired from the staff of the Metropolitan Police Service in 2007, but until two months ago was engaged by the force as a consultant senior investigating officer.
British newspapers have alleged that Rees asked the News of the World to carry out the surveillance of Cook as a favor.
Newspapers have reported that News of the World executives have said the journalists hired to follow Cook were investigating whether he was having an affair with Hames. Only later did they discover that the pair were in fact married.
There was no immediate reply to an e-mailed request for comment to lawyers representing Rees.
News Group Newspapers is a subsidiary of News International, owned by the News Corporation group of Rupert Murdoch.
A large number of celebrities have sued the publishers of the News of the World, closed down on Sunday in an effort to stem a widening scandal, for allegedly trawling their phone messages for scandal to sell newspapers.
The affair has cast a shadow over News Corp's $14 billion attempt to buy the 61 percent of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB it does not already own. Critics say the affair shows the company is not fit to control more British media.
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)