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Phone hacking victims awarded court payouts

From Jonathan Wald, CNN
updated 4:05 PM EST, Thu January 19, 2012
MP Chris Bryant (right) joins protesters calling for James Murdoch to stand down as chairman on November 29, 2011.
MP Chris Bryant (right) joins protesters calling for James Murdoch to stand down as chairman on November 29, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: News International confirms it agreed to settlements, but gives no details
  • Jude Law, awarded £130,000 in damages, says News of the World's behavior was appalling
  • A journalist who worked for other News International papers had his phone hacked
  • Lawyers for the claimants say News International tried to destroy evidence

London (CNN) -- A British lawmaker said Thursday that he and 17 others have been awarded payouts over phone hacking by the News of the World newspaper, in settlements totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

News International, the parent company of the now defunct News of the World newspaper, issued a statement confirming that a subsidiary had agreed to settlements, but did not provide details.

A number of people have brought civil cases against News International over alleged phone hacking by its employees.

Chris Bryant, a Labour Party member of Parliament, posted on Twitter: "News of the World apologises to me and 17 others in the High Court - and pays damages plus costs, with no hush clause."

In another post, Bryant said News of the World "admitted in court today that my phone was hacked and privacy intruded."

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He listed former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, actor Jude Law, the actor's ex-wife, Sadie Frost, and high-profile rugby player Gavin Henson as among the 18 people in court.

News International, in its statement, said that News Group Newspapers, its subsidiary that was the publisher of News of the World, "agreed (to) settlements in respect of a number of claims against the company."

It added that the company "made no admission as part of these settlements that directors or senior employees knew about the wrongdoing by NGN or sought to conceal it. However, for the purpose of reaching these settlements only, NGN agreed that the damages to be paid to claimants should be assessed as if this was the case."

The office of Mark Thomson, the lawyer who is representing many of the claimants, gave details of their payouts.

The office said Law received £130,000, while Frost was awarded £50,000. Law's personal assistant, Ben Jackson, was given £40,000, while a former PR adviser to Law and his ex-partner, Sienna Miller, Ciara Parkes, received £35,000.

Henson was awarded £40,000, as were Guy Pelly, a friend of Prince William, and Joan Hammell, a former chief of staff to Prescott. Lisa Gower, who was linked to actor Steve Coogan, was given £30,000, the lawyer's office said.

According to court documents posted online by the Guardian newspaper, freelance journalist Tom Rowlands -- who had worked for fellow News International titles the Times and Sunday Times -- was given £25,000 damages after News of the World hacked his voice mail to get information it then used in stories it published itself.

In a statement read outside the High Court by his legal team, Jude Law called the behavior of News of the World "appalling" and said he had brought legal proceedings "to try to find out the truth."

The group of lawyers representing the claimants said they had obtained documents from News International that revealed its attempts to destroy evidence, partly thanks to the fact that the 12 legal firms involved joined forces to work together.

"As a result, documents relating to the nature and scale of the conspiracy, a coverup and the destruction of evidence/e-mail archives by News Group have now been disclosed to the claimants," said the lawyers' statement, read outside court.

"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."

James Murdoch, chief executive of News International and the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, has insisted that the practice of phone hacking was not widespread.

News International scrapped the best-selling News of the World Sunday tabloid in July amid outrage over claims it had hacked into the voice mail of a missing 13-year-old girl who turned out to have been murdered.

Mark Thomson said other claimants would press ahead with a trial scheduled for next month, and praised the courage of all those taking on "a massive and influential multinational media organization."

Thursday's hearing followed the settlement of a number of other claims against News Group Newspapers, which also publishes the Sun. Among them was the claim brought by Law's ex-fiancee, Miller.

Law's statement said: "For several years leading up to 2006, I was suspicious about how information concerning my private life was coming out in the press. I changed my phones, I had my house swept for bugs but still the information kept being published. I started to become distrustful of people close to me.

"I was truly appalled by what I was shown by the police and by what my lawyers have discovered. It is clear that I, along with many others, was kept under constant surveillance for a number of years."

Prescott, in an interview with the Hull Daily Mail newspaper in his former constituency, said he had been awarded £40,000 in damages, plus his legal costs.

"Today's court decision at long last brings clarity, apology and compensation for the years of hacking into my telephone messages by Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers," he told the newspaper.

"It follows years of aggressive denials and a cavalier approach to private information and the law. These denials were supported by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the inaction of senior officers of the Metropolitan Police."

A public inquiry was set up in the wake of the scandal to examine British media ethics and behavior.

Senior executives and editors for News International and other media organizations, both current and former, have testified before the Leveson Inquiry, a wide-ranging government-backed investigation of British press ethics and practices, as have many of the alleged victims of phone hacking and other abuses by the press.

The Metropolitan Police is also conducting investigations into phone-hacking claims and allegations that police officers were bribed for information.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.

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