News Corp. Settles 36 Hacking Cases, Begins Multi-Million Dollar Payout

5:22 AM PST 01/19/2012 by Mimi Turner
Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Witness statements for victims, including Jude Law, were read out in London’s High Court as the bill to clear up the mess from phone-hacking began to tally up.

LONDON – News Corporation could face a total legal bill of hundreds of millions of dollars it emerged Thursday as 36 victims agreed to settle their cases in the High Court.

As the court head witness statements read out from each of the victims to settle, the total bill for the first 15 claimants – excluding their undisclosed and fairly hefty legal costs – totaled over $1 million. More than 740 hacking victims are understood to be on record.

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Court 16 of the High Court was standing room only as the witness statements of those who have settled their actions against the publisher of The News of The World were read out in open court as part of the legal process.

News International lawyers were forced to issue multiple apologies to phone-hacking victims as it agreed to pay out substantial damages to settle the first wave of cases.

Lawyers for claimants say that News International has agreed to assess the claims “on the basis” that senior executives were aware that the activities were illegal and that investigators were deliberately deceived. However, News International lawyers have not made any such formal admission. The company declined comment Thursday.

Jude Law, his former wife Sadie Frost, the Labor MP Chris Bryant, the former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott,  and footballer Ashley Cole are among the claimants who agreed to settle their cases against the newspaper publisher.

With payouts ranging between tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus legal costs and fees on top of that, the total bill News Corporation faces to settle all the cases could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hundreds of other cases are yet to settle and the court will begin hearing a handful of test cases next month from those still pursuing action against Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper division.

In his statement, Law - who accepted a settlement of $215,000 plus undisclosed legal costs and still has a legal case outstanding with The Sun - told the court News International had waged “an illegal campaign” against him by for many years.

“No aspect of my private life was safe from intrusion by News Group newspapers, including the lives of my children and the people who work for me. It was not just that my phone messages were listened to: News Group also paid people to watch me and my house for days at a time and to follow me and those close to me both in this country and abroad.”

Law’s statement was read by his lawyer, Mark Lewis, who himself had also come under surveillance by the News of The World for representing hacking victims.

Like other claimants, Law and Frost were given access to the police files on what had been gathered about them – in their case recordings of their phone calls with their nanny the court heard.

“I was truly appalled by what I was shown by the police and by what my lawyers have discovered,” Law’s statement went on. “What News Group Newspapers did was an abuse of its freedoms, they have overstepped the mark for many years.”

A statement for Bindmans, the legal firm that represented many of the settlement cases, said the claimants had been given full access to the surveillance files and information that had been kept on them.

“They are also now aware of the vast scale of illegal behavior and the attempts by News International to deceive the police and public,” the legal firm said,

“Attempts are being made to reconstruct email archives which had been destroyed by News Group in an apparent attempt to cover up wrongdoing.”

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