News of the World faces rush of phone hack claims

Rupert Murdoch’s British news arm faces a rush of fresh compensation claims and could be exposed to criminal prosecution after admitting its role in a long-running phone hacking scandal, lawyers said on Saturday.

“There will be a massive flood of people contacting lawyers,” said lawyer Charlotte Harris of law firm Mishcon de Reya.

News International, parent company of Britain’s top-selling News of the World tabloid, said on Friday it would admit liability and pay compensation in eight cases — although many more people believe they were targeted.

The admission was an about-turn from the media group’s previous denial that it knew journalists were hacking the phones of the royal family, politicians, celebrities and sports stars, blaming a handful of “rogue reporters” for the scandal.

Those who will receive an “unreserved apology” from the group, part of Murdoch’s global media empire News Corp, include actress Sienna Miller and politician Tessa Jowell.


Miller’s lawyer, Mark Thomson, said she would continue with her action and had not accepted any offer of settlement.

“Her primary concern is to discover the whole truth and for all those responsible to be held to account,” he said.

Mishcon de Reya’s Harris, acting for five of the 24 individuals with active court cases against the News of the World, said some of her clients had been contacted by News International and were considering their options.

“People [whose phones] have been intercepted, people who have had their privacy infringed, on a case by case basis must be given proper compensation,” Harris told Reuters.

Analysts said the media group’s move was an attempt to draw a line under the affair and limit financial costs as News Corp tries to push ahead with its planned $14-billion purchase of British satellite pay-TV operator BSkyB.

Settling all the cases could cost the group as much as £40-million ($66-million), said media lawyer Rod Dadak, a partner of law firm Lewis Silkin which represents a number of potential phone hacking litigants.

News International has declined to comment on media reports it has set aside half that amount, £20-million, for compensation payments.

“It’s a black hole. So £20-million may be substantially too little, it could be double that,” Dadak told Reuters, noting that the media group has already made individual settlements in the affair of up to a million pounds each.

Dadak said News International was now itself at risk of a corporate criminal prosecution, including for potential offences under Britain’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers act, which covers illegal phone interception.

“This is Murdoch’s Watergate because the cat is out of the bag. Two or three people have taken the rap but the powers that be must have known or turned a blind eye to what was going on. It couldn’t be more serious,” Dadak said.

Police have reopened an investigation into the hacking scandal and earlier this week arrested two journalists, former senior News of the World editor Ian Edmondson and a man identified as the paper’s chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck.

Lawyer Mark Lewis of Taylor Hampton Solicitors, with four active court cases against the tabloid, said the current compensation claims were just the “tip of the iceberg”.

“Cases are coming forward all the time. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing from both journalists and potential clients,” he told Reuters.

“Anyone who has been in the News of the World, or knows someone who has been in the News of the World, ought to find out whether their phone was listened in to, because they are likely to have a claim,” Lewis said.

The scandal dates back to 2005/06, when the tabloid’s royal reporter and a private detective were arrested and jailed for snooping on the voicemail messages of royal aides. – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Excess deaths increase but we are ‘still in the dark’

The data shows 17 000 more people have died than usual since May, but only 6 000 deaths have officially been attributed to Covid-19

A fishy business: How an Icelandic multinational moved profits out of Namibia

Global food companies avoid paying taxes by shifting profits around the world. Finance Uncovered reports on the case of Icelandic fishing giant Samherji’s operations in Namibia

The orchestrators of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen

As the crisis continues to unfold, the biggest threat may be the vested interest in maintaining the civil war Therefore, with no end in sight to the conflict plaguing the nation, the question worth asking is: who benefits from a Yemen at war?

Journalists believe news and opinion are separate, but readers can’t tell the difference

With many readers coming to news sites from social media links, they may not pay attention to the subtle clues that mark a story published by the opinion staff

Revolutionaries turn to healthcare

After ousting a dictator, members of Sudan’s resistance committees are now helping to fight the Covid-19 pandemic

How Mauritius beat the pandemic

Despite containing Covid-19, it will be some time before normal life resumes — and some measures will be written into the law
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday