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LONDON – News Corp. bosses must have been hoping that the worst was over. But as a week of testimony from phone-hacking victims begins Monday, the company may come to feel that the worst has just begun.
They will be questioned under oath, and are expected to give details about the misery and intrusion they have suffered at the hands of the media in general, and News International in particular.
The inquiry will also hear first-hand from less well-known victims of phone-hacking: Bob and Sally Dowler– the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler – and Gerry McCann, the father of missing toddler Madeline McCann, are likely to give poignant testimony on the impact that newspaper intrusion has had on their lives. All are understood to have been victims of phone-hacking by the now-shuttered News of The World.
Only last week, the Leveson Inquiry heard details of alleged “hounding” and “barrage of threats” endured by the mother of Hugh Grant’s baby daughter, which she said had made her life “unbearable.”
The star of Four Weddings and a Funeral believes he has been targeted by newspapers after speaking out against News International and phone hacking.
The Inquiry will also hear from Steve Coogan, star of the Fox-produced Night at the Museum, who last week launched a blistering attack on Rupert and James Murdoch.
Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Coogan likened News International to “a protection racket” and scoffed at James Murdoch’s passionate free-market assertion – made in a high profile speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival in 2009 – that “the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”
“No, Mr. Murdoch, the unchecked market leads to the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone,” Coogan wrote.
But the actor and comedian saved his harshest words for News Corp. CEO and chairman Rupert Murdoch.
“History teaches us that it doesn’t matter how plainly wrong something is; if you do it systematically, unblinkingly and for long enough then it becomes accepted, part of the zeitgeist. That is Rupert Murdoch’s toxic legacy. We should not allow his son to carry forward the mantle.”
The Leveson Inquiry will hear testimony from 23 witnesses over the next seven days, with the parents of Milly Dowler and Hugh Grant on Monday, Steve Coogan on Tuesday, Mark Lewis, the lawyer to phone-hacking victims (an himself a victim of covert surveillance by the News of the World) on Wednesday and Sienna Miller and J.K. Rowling on Thursday.
As the spotlight on murky newspaper practices falls on News International at the Leveson Inquiry, the company finds itself battling on a separate front as it prepares to face legal claims from phone-hacking victims in a series of six test cases that will be heard in January.
The test cases at the High Court in London are expected to give guidance on the payouts that can be expected by the many thousands of people who are thought to have been victims of phone-hacking.
In pre-trial hearings News International’s lawyer, Michael Silverleaf QC, told the court last week that litigants must not be allowed to conduct “a witch-hunt” against the newspaper group.
But despite his arguments, News International lost its bid to have exemplary charges waived. Such charges are designed to allow punitive charges to apply to act as a warning, and the verdict from Mr Justice Vos means that on top of all the negative publicity, News International may end up with many more millions in legal damages to pay.
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