News Corp.’s British newspaper unit settled at least 15 lawsuits by phone-hacking victims, including nine that were part of a test case over the scandal scheduled to start next week.
Sky Andrew, the soccer agent who was one of the first known victims of phone hacking by News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, and actor Steve Coogan, were among those who settled their claims at a hearing in London today. The agreements may delay the test trial that would set damage guidelines in the cases, Judge Geoffrey Vos said.
“The primary issue today is what we are going to do with the trial,” Vos said.
News Corp. has agreed to pay out more than 5 million pounds ($7.9 million) to resolve claims by hacking victims and settled dozens of suits at a hearing last month. The scandal led New York-based News Corp. to close News of the World and is the subject of separate judicial and police probes.
Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for News Corp.’s U.K. unit, declined to comment.
Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for phone-hacking victims, said the test case should proceed to resolve so-called generic issues. Welsh singer Charlotte Church, who sang at News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s wedding, hasn’t settled her claim and new cases have been filed, he said.
News Corp. lawyer Michael Silverleaf argued the test case should be delayed because the plaintiffs are taking “polarizing” and “extreme” views about the specific instances of alleged phone hacking in Church’s lawsuit. One of the disputed calls lasted only five seconds, not long enough for phone hacking to take place, he said.
Silverleaf also sought disclosure of evidence about Church’s family finances and her medical condition. News of the World wrote stories about her pregnancy and her parent’s marriage.
“I think it’s disproportionate to go into the entire Church family’s financial affairs,” Vos said.
Andrew will receive 75,000 pounds and Coogan 40,000 pounds, lawyers said at the hearing. Soccer player Paul Gascoigne and Alastair Campbell, the former spokesman for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, also settled their cases. Lawmaker George Galloway also agreed to resolve his claim.
“I am particularly pleased that News Group have also undertaken to continue searches of other ‘documents in its possession’, so that I can ascertain the extent of any further wrongdoing, both for the time I worked in Downing Street and since,” Campbell said on his website. “They have agreed I ‘may be entitled to further damages in certain circumstances.’”
Evidence uncovered in civil cases by actor Sienna Miller and other celebrity victims in 2010 revealed the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World, prompting News Corp. to shutter the tabloid in July and Chairman Rupert Murdoch to be called to give testimony to lawmakers the same month. Police in London have said about 800 people were targeted by the paper.
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