Mar 3, 12:48 PM EST

Lawyer: Phone hacking 'rife' at Britain's Mirror tabloids

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LONDON (AP) -- Phone hacking was "rife" for years at tabloids owned by Britain's Trinity Mirror PLC, a lawyer for victims of illegal eavesdropping said Tuesday.

David Sherborne said the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People tabloids likely began hacking phones "by mid-1999 at the latest." He said it went on for "at least eight and possibly 10 years."

Sherborne is representing plaintiffs including actress Sadie Frost, actor Shane Ritchie and former soccer player Paul Gascoigne in a civil lawsuit. A High Court judge is hearing a case by eight claimants that will set guidelines for damages to be paid to Trinity Mirror hacking victims.

Sherborne said that listening in on celebrities' private voicemail messages allowed journalists to learn "what they were doing, where they were doing it and who they were doing it with."

He said all the victims "described the paranoia, feelings of distrust, and the suspicion that they were betrayed by people close to them, with all the inevitable damage caused to relationships, their friends and family."

Matthew Nicklin, lawyer for the newspapers, said the company had accepted liability and apologized to the victims. He said "the full extent of the voicemail interception will never be precisely known."

Britain's phone-hacking scandal erupted in 2011 with the revelation of eavesdropping by the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World. The furor led to the closure of that paper and the arrests of dozens of journalists.

The police investigation initially focused on Murdoch's papers, but has spread to other companies.

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