NOTW pays damages to 37 hacking victims

RUPERT MURDOCH’S British newspaper company has agreed to pay damages to 37 high-profile victims of tabloid phone hacking, including actor Jude Law, footballer Ashley Cole, a friend of Prince William and former deputy prime minister John Prescott.

In the 15 settlements whose financial terms were made public, amounts generally ran into the tens of thousands of pounds — although Law received £130,000 (€155,600) to settle claims against the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid and its sister paper, The Sun.

Law was one of 60 people who have sued News Group Newspapers, claiming their mobile phone voicemails were hacked. Other cases whose settlement was announced at London’s High Court yesterday included claims by former government ministers Chris Bryant and Tessa Jowell, rugby player Gavin Henson and Sara Payne, the mother of murdered schoolgirl, Sarah.

It was the biggest number of settlements yet in the long-running hacking scandal, which has shaken Murdoch’s global empire, spurred the resignations of several of his top executives and reverberated through Britain’s political, police and media elite.

News Group Newspapers admitted that 16 articles about Law published in the News of the World tabloid between 2003 and 2006 had been obtained by phone hacking, and that the actor had also been placed under “repeated and sustained physical surveillance”.

The company also admitted that articles in The Sun tabloid misused Law’s private information, although it didn’t go so far as to admit to phone hacking.

In a statement, Law said Murdoch’s tabloids had been “prepared to do anything to sell their newspapers and to make money, irrespective of the impact it had on people’s lives”.

The claimants described feeling mistrust, fear and paranoia as phone messages went missing, journalists knew their movements in advance or private information appeared in the media.

“I changed my phones, I had my house swept for bugs but still the information kept being published,” Law said, adding that the phone hacking had made him “distrustful of people close to me”.

“For me, this case was never about money. It was about standing up for myself and finding out what had happened. I owed it to my friends and family as well as myself to do this,” he said.

Law’s ex-wife, actress Sadie Frost, received £50,000 in damages plus legal costs for phone hacking and deceit by the News of the World. Chris Bryant received £30,000 in damages plus costs, while Prescott — a prominent member of the Labour Party — accepted £40,000.

After each victim’s statement, News Group lawyer Michael Silverleaf stood to express the news company’s “sincere apologies” for the damage and distress that its illegal activity had caused.

Frost said the paper’s activity caused her and Law to suspect one another. Henson said he accused the family of his then-wife, singer Charlotte Church, of leaking stories to the press.

Other claimants included Guy Pelly, a friend of Prince William, who was awarded £40,000, and Tom Rowland, a journalist who wrote for one of Murdoch’s own newspapers, the Sunday Times. Rowland received £25,000 after News Group admitted hacking his phone.

In some cases the company admitted hacking into emails, as well as telephone voice mails. Christopher Shipman, son of serial killer Harold Shipman, had emails containing sensitive legal and medical information intercepted by the News of the World. He was awarded “substantial” undisclosed damages.

Many victims had earlier settled with the company, including actress Sienna Miller and the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, who were awarded £2 million in damages.

The slew of settlements is one consequence of the revelations of phone hacking and other illegal tactics at the News of the World, where journalists routinely intercepted voice mails in a relentless search for scoops. The settlements announced yesterday amount to more than half of the phone hacking lawsuits facing Murdoch’s company, but the number of victims is estimated in the hundreds. Mark Lewis, a lawyer for many of the phone hacking victims, said in an email that the fight against Murdoch wasn’t over.

“While congratulations are due to those (lawyers) and clients who have settled their cases, it is important that we don’t get carried away into thinking that the war is over,” Lewis said.

“Fewer than 1% of the people who were hacked have settled their cases. There are many more cases in the pipeline... This is too early to celebrate, we’re not even at the end of the beginning.”

Ten further cases are due to go to court next month, though lawyers said more settlements are likely.

Payouts

* OTHER awards announced were:

* £30,000 to MP Chris Bryant;

* £30,000 to Lisa Gower, who had a relationship with actor Steve Coogan;

* £60,000 to an anonymous individual known as HJK;

* £40,000 to Joan Hammell, former chief of staff to John Prescott;

* £40,000 to Jude Law’s personal assistant, Ben Jackson;

* £32,500 to Labour MP Denis MacShane;

* £35,000 to PR consultant Ciara Parkes;

* £40,000 to entrepreneur Guy Pelly;

* £25,000 to journalist Tom Rowland;

* £25,000 to solicitor Graham Shear;

* £27,500 to author and journalist Joan Smith;

* Substantial undisclosed damages to former Labour MP Claire Ward;

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