Settlements in phone hack scandal nets big pay day for aides, publicists, relatives

For the first time News Corp. execs admit condoning years-long pattern of phone hacks

News Corp. has reportedly settled 36 of the 60 lawsuits filed against it as a result of the phone-hacking scandal that forced it to close the tabloid News of the World last year following revelations that NOTW, reporters routinely hacked the cell-phone voice mails of celebrities and political figures for more than 10 years.

Rumors, accusations and mini-scandals swirled around the paper during most of the late '90s and through the past decade. Top editors at News of the World and News Corp. executives consistently blamed all the problems on a single rogue reporter who went to jail in 2007 for breaking in to the voice mail of aides to members of the royal family.

Much of the breakthrough came due to pressure from a coalition of victims' lawyers from a dozen firms who banded together to battle News Corp., the largest media company in the world. (Reuters' guide to News. Corp. hacking scandal is here.)

Among the revelations that came from pooling and sifting through evidence made available to individual victims was a set of documents demonstrating News. Corp. executives had tried to destroy evidence corroborating the victims' stories, according to the British paper The Daily Mail.

Lawyers for the victims told the story to a British court just before announcing the first of the settlements the Daily Mail reported.

Despite years of energetic denials, News Corp. executives have changed their tune.

The settlements with stars such as Jude Law and Marissa Miller, and the mother of slain schoolgirl Sarah Payne included an admission from News Corp. execs that they and top editors knew about and condoned the phone hacking, according to lawyers for victims who have already settled claims against the company.

"News Group has agreed to compensation being assessed on the basis that senior employees and directors of NGN knew about the wrongdoing and sought to conceal it by deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence," according to the statement from victims' lawyers.

Having your voice mail hacked is bad enough, but the harassment is much worse when reporters and photographers follow you in the real world as well, according to a statement from actor Jude Law, who claims he was followed around his own neighborhood, on his travels around Britain and even overseas. He reportedly settled his suit for £130,000 pounds plus court costs. His former wife, model Sadie Frost, got £50,000.

"It is clear that I, along with many others, was kept under constant surveillance for a number of years," according to a statement issued by Law's lawyers. "No aspect of my private life was safe from intrusion by News Group newspapers, including the lives of my children.

Law's former PR rep got £35,000 and his personal assistant got £40,000.

Law's efforts to discover how reporters were obtaining private information about his travel plans helped focus police investigations on cell phone voice mails rather than microphones hidden in the house or other places Law suspected he was being spied on.

Other victims who settled and received payments of between £ 30,000 and £40,000 include several members of parliament, professional soccer players, a close friend of Prince Harry as well as actresses Ashley Cole and Gwyneth Paltrow, singer Charlotte Church and comedian Steve Coogan.

High-profile publicist Max Clifford, whose clients include entertainers, politicians and professional athletes, reportedly received a million pounds, while the family of Milly Dowler – the 13-year-old murdered in 2002, whose voice-mail hacking became the hammer prosecutors used to break down NOTW's resistance, reportedly received £ 2 million.

Despite settlements with 35 of the 60 victims currently suing News Corp. neither the scandal nor the lawsuits are anywhere close to finished, according to lawyers for victims whose cases are in the next wave of prosecutions.

Mark Lewis, a lawyer for many of the phone hacking victims, said in an email that the fight against Murdoch's empire was not 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 percent 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.' – Daily Mail, Jan. 19, 2012

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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