News Corp. Settles Phone-Hacking Lawsuits
By Erik Larson – Feb 8, 2012 9:53 AM ET
News Corp.’s British newspaper unit settled at least 15 more lawsuits by victims of phone hacking at its News of the World tabloid, delaying the first civil trial in the scandal by two weeks.
Lawyers for the company read apologies to nine victims today, including soccer agent Sky Andrew, one of the paper’s first known phone-hacking targets, and actor-comedian Steve Coogan. The only remaining case ready for the trial, designed to determine damage guidelines for other victims, was filed by Welsh singer Charlotte Church.
Judge Geoffrey Vos denied a request by News Corp. to indefinitely delay the trial to deal with alleged difficulties related to Church’s claim. He re-scheduled the trial for Feb. 27. “If it is a hard nut to crack, then certainly it is my job to crack it,” Vos said.
News Corp. has agreed to pay out more than 5 million pounds ($7.9 million) to resolve claims by hacking victims, settling 54 lawsuits out of 60 that were filed by October 2010. The scandal led New York-based News Corp. (NWSA) to close News of the World in July and the company faces a separate judicial inquiry and three related police probes.
More than 50 victims are preparing new lawsuits, lawyer Mark Lewis said in an interview today. The Metropolitan Police Service has said more than 800 people were targeted and thousands of other names were found in the notes of Glenn Mulcaire, the ex-News of the World private investigator who was jailed for phone hacking in 2007.
Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for News Corp.’s News International unit, declined to comment.
Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for phone-hacking victims, said the test case should proceed to trial to resolve so-called generic issues.
News Corp. lawyer Michael Silverleaf argued the trial should be delayed because the plaintiffs are taking “polarizing” and “extreme” views about the specific instances of alleged phone hacking in Church’s lawsuit. One of the disputed calls lasted only five seconds, not long enough for phone hacking to take place, he said.
Silverleaf also sought disclosure of evidence about Church’s family finances and her current medical condition, including her state of mind. News of the World wrote stories about her pregnancy and her parent’s marriage.
“I think it’s disproportionate to go into the entire Church family’s financial affairs,” Vos said.
Church, who sang at News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s wedding, agreed to give medical records and details of her complaints about other media companies over their coverage of her, Vos said. She also agreed to have a medical examination by a doctor selected by News International, he said.
Andrew will receive 75,000 pounds and Coogan 40,000 pounds, lawyers said at the hearing. Soccer player Paul Gascoigne and Alastair Campbell, the former spokesman for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, also settled their cases. Lawmaker George Galloway also agreed to resolve his claim.
The hacking of Andrew’s phone was particularly egregious because it affected the privacy of his clients, his lawyer Charlotte Harris said in court today. His lawsuit was one of the first to uncover evidence that chipped away at News International’s claim that phone hacking wasn’t widespread.
“I am particularly pleased that News Group have also undertaken to continue searches of other ‘documents in its possession’, so that I can ascertain the extent of any further wrongdoing, both for the time I worked in Downing Street and since,” Campbell said on his website. “They have agreed I ‘may be entitled to further damages in certain circumstances.’”
Evidence uncovered in civil cases by actor Sienna Miller and other celebrity victims in 2010 revealed the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World, prompting News Corp. to shutter the tabloid in July and Chairman Rupert Murdoch to be called to give testimony to lawmakers the same month.
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