News Corp. (NWSA:US)’s News of the World tabloid probably hacked into the mobile-phone voice mails of over a thousand people, a lawyer for victims told a London judge today, citing new police figures.
The Metropolitan Police Service increased the number of likely victims to 1,174 from 829, said the lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, in a London court. The data, including about 4,800 “potential” victims, was disclosed days before News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, will testify at a U.K. media-ethics inquiry stemming from the scandal.
News Corp., based in New York, has spent at least $195 million dealing with the scandal and settling with dozens of celebrities, lawmakers and crime victims to avoid a public trial that had been scheduled for February. Since then, at least 46 more victims have sued, including Emma Noble, the ex-wife of former U.K. Prime Minister John Major’s son, and singer Gemma Abbey, who both filed claims this week.
Judge Geoffrey Vos scheduled today’s hearing to consider proposals from victims and News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, about how to handle current and future cases with a common procedure as they’re filed and settled. The publisher’s lawyer, Michael Silverleaf, said the company is still committed to settling all claims to avoid a second potential trial tentatively scheduled for early next year.
No ‘Third Tranche’
“I want this second tranche of cases to be as complete as possible,” Vos said. “I don’t want to be here next year managing a third tranche of this litigation.”
The Met is still contacting likely phone-hacking victims, Tomlinson said today. Police, who are also probing computer hacking and bribery of public officials by News Corp.’s U.K. titles, have arrested 45 people since last year, including a royal editor at News Corp.’s Sun tabloid detained yesterday.
The last trial was called off in February after London- based News International agreed to pay 600,000 pounds ($967,100) to the Welsh singer Charlotte Church and her parents to settle their lawsuit. She was the last victim whose case was prepared to go to trial at the time.
Tomlinson said victims of other types of illegal behavior by News Corp., such as computer hacking or the use of deception to gain personal details, should be included in the group litigation dominated by phone-hacking claims.
‘Hacking Just One’
“There’s a whole series of alleged information-gathering activities, of which phone hacking is just one,” Tomlinson said. “All the claims should be treated as coming under this litigation.”
The company also asked Vos to consider whether it’s necessary to identify new “test cases” for the group -- a procedure used last year that became cumbersome as the lawsuits were repeatedly settled and replaced. They must also decide if there should be a limited pool of approved lawyers for victims to help limit legal costs, Vos said.
Rupert Murdoch shuttered the News of the World in July to help contain public outrage after it was revealed the tabloid hacked the voice mail of a murdered schoolgirl. News International’s ex-chief executive officer, Rebekah Brooks, was among those arrested at the time.
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