Thursday, January 19, 2012

Celebrities reach phone hacking settlement - 19th January 2012


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Rupert Murdoch's media empire has made huge payouts to 37 phone-hacking victims, including actor Jude Law, singer Danii Minogue, and former British deputy prime minister John Prescott, their lawyers said.

The High Court in London heard new details of settlements amounting to more than 645,000 pounds ($960,000), including 130,000 pounds for Alfie star Law, for hacking by the News of the World tabloid.

Law said in a statement after the hearing that he launched his case "to find out the truth" about the phone-hacking scandal, which led to the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World in July.

"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," said Law, 39.

He said the hacking by the News of the World and its daily sister paper The Sun led him to to suspect friends and family because private information kept appearing in the press when the hacking took place between 2003 and 2006.

"I changed my phones, I had my house swept for bugs but still the information kept being published. I started to become distrustful of people close to me," he added.

"No aspect of my private life was safe from intrusion."

Among the other payouts, Prescott received 40,000 pounds, Law's ex-wife Sadie Frost received 50,000 pounds, Law's personal assistant Ben Jackson received 40,000 pounds, and rugby player Gavin Henson, the ex-husband of singer Charlotte Church, also got 40,000 pounds.

Guy Pelly, a close friend of Prince William and Prince Harry, won 40,000 pounds, while Chelsea and England footballer Cole and Australian singer Minogue won undisclosed settlements.

The victims also included two journalists who worked for other papers in Murdoch's empire.

The judge heard statements read out in court on behalf of 18 of the 36.

Mark Thomson, a lawyer for some of the victims, said the claimants had been "extremely brave to take on and succeed against a massive and influential multinational media organisation."

"They can take the credit for triggering the new police investigation, the parliamentary inquiries and the Leveson Inquiry. They should be very pleased with what they have achieved," he added.

He said the majority of people pursuing damages claims had now settled but that others would press ahead with a trial scheduled for next month.

Mr Murdoch's company apologised to Law in court.

Lawyer Michael Silverleaf said his client offered "sincere and unreserved apologies to the claimant for the damage, as well as the considerable distress caused to him and those close to him."

News International, the British newspaper arm of Murdoch's US-based News Corporation, refused to give any further details on the settlements.

"At the moment we're not commenting at all," a News International spokeswoman said.

The company has set up a multi-million-pound compensation scheme for victims of phone hacking in a bid to avoid further costly civil lawsuits.

Among those it settled with last year were British actress Sienna Miller, Law's ex-girlfriend, and James Hewitt, the former lover of Diana, Princess of Wales.

It has also made a payout of 2 million pounds to the family of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, while Mr Murdoch made a personal donation of 1 million pounds to charities chosen by her family.

Revelations that the News of the World hacked her phone caused public outrage when they emerged in July last year, turning the long-simmering issue into a major public scandal.

Prime Minister David Cameron launched the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press which has heard from a string of hacking victims and media figures since July.

Police have arrested several people including Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor and media chief for Mr Cameron, and former News International boss Rebekah Brooks.

Allegations that police were too close to Mr Murdoch's papers also claimed the scalps of Scotland Yard's top officer and another senior policeman. (Credit: Wires)

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