News Corp. Failed to Disclose Executive's Hacking E-Mail
News Corp. (NWSA)’s British unit failed for months to disclose in civil litigation a company executive’s e- mail related to hacking the phone of a “well-known person.”
The e-mail was found in March during a search for evidence by the publisher of News Corp.’s U.K. newspapers and was only shared with victims yesterday, after police alerted them to its existence, David Sherborne, a lawyer for dozens of people who had their voice mails accessed, said at a London hearing today.
“We had to be told about it by police, even though News International knew about it,” Sherborne said, referring to the News Corp. unit. “We have a real concern about the way this disclosure is being conducted.”
News Corp., the New York-based company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, is trying to move on from the scandal after the victims’ civil case and a parallel media-ethics probe that began last year revealed damaging e-mails and text messages about the practice. Judge Geoffrey Vos, who is overseeing the civil case, said in January the company destroyed evidence to hide the extent of the problem.
Lawyers for News International said the e-mail was discovered in the context of a separate phone-hacking search requested by police and that attorneys forgot to give it to victims in the civil case.
Vos said he believed the explanation and barred the lawyers from identifying the executive who wrote the e-mail, or the person it was about, to prevent the information from prejudicing criminal cases against former employees. Hugh Tomlinson, another lawyer for victims, said he wouldn’t challenge News International’s explanation.
The hacking scandal triggered about 60 arrests and the closure of the News of the World tabloid a year ago. The company is seeking to settle about 50 combined lawsuits before a trial scheduled for early next year.
The number of victims in the case may rise to about 100, while about 250 others have sought settlements with News International out of court, lawyers for the company and victims said today. Seventy-nine out-of-court deals have been reached.
Vos ordered News International in January to search a former employee’s laptops to seek out new evidence. The company is also examining iPhones used by four unidentified executives after victims said they may contain evidence.
Testifying today at the media-ethics inquiry the hacking scandal prompted, Max Mosley, the former president of Formula One, proposed the creation of an independent press tribunal which could levy fines of as much as 10 percent of a publication’s revenue.
“We need a statutory body that can stop the press from going too far,” he said. “A decent journalist will recognize if he got it wrong.”
Mosley, who won a 60,000 pound ($93,800) award against News of the World in 2008 for publishing a story that said he took part in a Nazi-themed “orgy,” said the enforcement process should be completely independent from the government and the media.
“With privacy, money can do nothing to repair the damage to the victim,” according to a document Mosley submitted.
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