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19 January 2012

Victory for phone hacking claimants as News Group Newspapers back down on the eve of trial

7 mins


Compensation, costs and continuing disclosure form part of settlement agreements.

News Group Newspapers has finally agreed to wide ranging settlement agreements for the majority of Claimants pursuing damages claims against the company in relation to phone hacking at the News of the World. 

Tamsin Allen, Bindmans LLP, said:

“The Claimants now have some clarity about what happened to them in the years between 2000 and 2005 and satisfaction that justice has finally been done.  Many of them have wondered for years how tabloid newspapers were able to obtain secret personal information about them, even suspecting their closest friends and relatives.  Lives have been severely affected by this cavalier approach to private information and the law.  News Group’s misguided decision to defend claims aggressively made matters worse.  News Group have finally  started to see sense and agreed to apologise and to pay compensation and costs in the majority of the remaining claims.   The Leveson Inquiry will, in time, reveal to the public the full extent of the perversion of good journalistic standards at the News of the World during the phone-hacking years.”
Mark Thomson, Atkins Thomson, said

“After years of denials and cover-up, News Group Newspapers has finally admitted the depth and scale of the unlawful activities of many of their journalists at the News of World and the culture of illegal conduct at their paper. After more than a year of litigation, they have now not only made admissions and apologies to many individual victims of the phone hacking conspiracy but also made general admissions about what went on.

All of the claimants have 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. 

A number of claimants are still pursuing the matter to trial and, as a result, NGN will continue to disclose further information and evidence.”

Gerald Shamash, Steel & Shamash, said

“When the now defunct News of the World investigated and published stories about people, including people high up in Government as well as other people in the public eye, it systematically ignored any privacy rights and interests they might have, and knew no limits in what it was prepared to do to get a story. It had a distorted idea of the ‘public interest,’ justifying its behaviour like a tyrannical father.”     

Background information:

• Following the conviction of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, privacy proceedings were settled with large confidential sums being paid to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford leading to speculation about a cover-up.

• In 2008, Stuart Kuttner of News of the World claimed  “It happened once at the ‘News of the World’.  The reporter was fired; he went to prison.  The editor resigned”.    In response to the Guardian’s allegations in July 2009 that phone hacking was widespread, Andy Hayman formerly the officer in charge of the phone hacking investigation, claimed in an article in The Times that there were a “handful” of victims and the police had “left no stone unturned”.  John Yates supported that position.  The News of the World said “From our own investigation, but more importantly that of the police, we can state with confidence that, apart from the matters referred to above, there is not and never has been evidence to support allegations that ‘News of the World’ journalists have accessed the voicemails of any individual” and no evidence of “systemic corporate illegality by News International to suppress evidence.”

• The PCC also investigated and concluded that phone-hacking was a minority activity, confined to one rogue reporter, and that the practice had been thoroughly investigated and stamped out.

• Convinced that this defence was false, a determined group of claimants and their lawyers, mostly acting on conditional fee agreements,  issued proceedings from 2009 onwards. 

• In early 2010, applications for disclosure were made in the case of Sienna Miller, forcing News Group to reveal evidence  which referred to another senior journalist on the News of the World. This precipitated a new police investigation, and a dramatic shift in News Group’s public stance leading to limited admissions.  

• As more and more new victims were alerted and joined the litigation Mr Justice Vos decided in April 2011 that all the claims should be heard together with certain lead claims being treated as test cases.  News Group continued to defend almost all the claims.

• By October 2011, over 60 claims had been issued and 12 firms of solicitors were working together as a co-ordinated group.  This group, in the face of significant opposition from News Group and its lawyers, obtained 9 separate disclosure orders from the Court.  As a result, documents relating to the nature and scale of the conspiracy, a cover up and the destruction of evidence/email archives by News Group have now been disclosed to the Claimants.  In the face of this overwhelming evidence, the “rogue reporter” position has disintegrated  and the range, scale and extent of phone-hacking has become clear.

• Despite its public admissions and expressions of regret, News Group continued to defend the majority of claims, arguing that interception did not take place or that the information obtained was not confidential. 

• News Group has never suggested there was any public interest whatsoever in voicemail interception. 

• As a result of the pressure exerted on News Group in these claims, public admissions of wrongdoing have now been obtained from News International and proper compensation will be paid to every victim.   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.

• News Group has undertaken to continue to search its electronic archives so that all available evidence relating to unlawful interceptions will eventually be disclosed to the Claimants.

• A number of Claimants are pursuing the actions to trial which commences on 13th February.

• The Claimants (helped by the work of investigative journalists at the Guardian, the New York Times and other papers) have therefore achieved:

o The erosion of News Group’s original position, forcing them into a sequence of significant admissions about their unlawful behaviour and about their attempts to cover it up
o Substantial compensation for victims of illegal intrusion by journalists and private investigators.  The sums paid are far in excess of the usual range of compensation payments for misuse of private information, reflecting the aggravating features in these cases
o The establishment of new police investigations – Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta – which have led to the arrest of over 20 people. Those investigations will continue.
o The Claimants themselves now know much more about what private messages were listened to, who intercepted their messages and who authorised it,  how and why the interceptions were carried out, what was done with the information, who was paid and how much.  They are also now aware of the vast scale of the illegal behaviour and the attempts by News International to deceive the police and public. 
o The evidence disclosed to the Claimants is being considered by the Police in relation to the ongoing investigation, and by the  Leveson Inquiry which will focus on the detail of phone hacking in Part 2 which will follow the police investigation. 
o The Defendants will continue to search their archives for information about the illegal interception of the Claimants’ communications, and settlement orders contain a specific provision that new claims can be brought in certain circumstances where further wrongdoing emerges in the future.  This was important because attempts are being made to reconstruct email archives which had been destroyed by News Group in an apparent attempt to cover up wrongdoing.


For further information and to arrange interviews, please contact:

Tamsin Allen 07968 846 569
Mark Thomson 07812 166 734


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