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Murdoch group pays hundreds of thousands in phone-hacking suits

By Jonathan Wald and Richard Allen Greene, CNN
updated 9:16 AM EST, Wed February 8, 2012
Sienna Miller is among prominent figures who have received settlements from Murdoch's publishing group.
Sienna Miller is among prominent figures who have received settlements from Murdoch's publishing group.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Murdoch's News Group Newspapers has now settled 59 of 60 cases
  • Celebrities and politicians sued News of the World's publisher over phone hacking
  • News of the World was shut down over the hacking scandal
  • Police, lawmakers and an independent inquiry are all probing the scandal

London (CNN) -- The publisher of Rupert Murdoch's now defunct News of the World tabloid paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds Wednesday to settle lawsuits over phone hacking from celebrities and politicians, including a former Tony Blair spokesman.

The publisher apologized for intercepting phone messages of Alastair Campbell, the Blair aide, and agreed to pay costs and damages, Campbell said in a statement. He did not say how much the settlement was worth.

With Wednesday's settlements, News Group Newspapers has settled 59 of the 60 lawsuits against it.

But former child singing star Charlotte Church, who has testified publicly about the damage phone hacking did to her personal life, has refused to settle. Her case is expected to go to court as soon as this month.

The phone-hacking scandal prompted Murdoch's son, News Corp. executive James Murdoch, to shut down News of the World in July. The best-selling British newspaper was 168 years old.

Wednesday's agreement may not end Campbell's legal action against Murdoch's newspaper group, lawyer Gerald Shamash said.

The publisher said it would continue searching for documents related to the hacking of Campbell's voice mail and disclose what it found to him.

News Group Newspapers "has agreed that Mr. Campbell may be entitled" to further legal action, Shamash said.

Comic actor Steve Coogan, who also settled Wednesday, echoed the words of many who have sued over phone hacking.

"This has never been about money," he said outside the court. "Like other people who have sued, I was determined to do my part to show the depths to which the press can sink in pursuit of private information."

British Prime Minister David Cameron set up an independent inquiry into press ethics and practices in response to the scandal, and police are carrying out three separate investigations into elements of it: phone hacking, e-mail hacking, and police bribery.

Two parliamentary committees are also investigating the scandal.

The publisher of the shuttered tabloid is paying £40,000 ($63,000) and legal costs to Coogan, £45,000 ($71,000) plus costs to Liberal Democrat politician Simon Hughes, and £75,000 ($119,000) plus costs to sports agent Sky Andrew, lawyers and judges announced Wednesday.

Retired soccer star Paul Gascoigne was paid £68,000 plus costs. The Murdoch group admitted both hacking his phone messages and having him followed by a private investigator, Derek Webb.

Former lawmaker George Galloway got £25,000 ($40,000) plus costs as the publisher admitted hacking his phone messages after the start of the second Gulf war.

A number of other high-profile figures, including actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller, and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, have already received settlements from Murdoch's publishing group.

Its parent company, News International, said at the time 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."

Both James and Rupert Murdoch, as well as senior executives at News International, have testified before British lawmakers examining allegations of wrongdoing.

There have been 13 arrests in connection with Operation Elveden, the Metropolitan Police investigation into bribery of police officers by journalists. There have been 17 arrests in relation to Operation Weeting, the phone-hacking inquiry. Three people have been arrested in connection with both investigations.

No one has been charged.

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