News Corp. (NWSA:US) settled more than 100 lawsuits over phone hacking by journalists at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid in Britain as it seeks to avoid a civil trial, according to people familiar with the matter.
Among 111 victims who settled since a hearing in the case last month are Cherie Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Ted Beckham, the father of soccer player David Beckham, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
The accords follow 22 similar deals in December, including a settlement with British actor Hugh Grant, one of the most vocal critics of the scandal over illegal voice-mail interception. Thirty-one remaining cases will go to trial later this year if they aren’t resolved.
“It’s now been settled -- we’re delighted,” Beckham’s lawyer, Gerald Shamash, said of the lawsuit. He declined to give any details.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World in July 2011 in response to public anger over revelations the tabloid hacked the voice mail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler a decade ago. Prosecutors overseeing criminal cases in the matter have said the newspaper victimized more than 600 people between 2000 and 2006.
Dan McMillan, a communications manager for News Corp. in London, declined to confirm the settlements in a phone interview today.
“We’ve been keen from the start to pay the appropriate compensation to the right people, and have sought to minimize the duration and distress of the process,” McMillan said.
An earlier trial scheduled for February 2012 was called off after more than 70 lawsuits were settled. Lawyers for News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, have said they hope to avoid the second scheduled trial as well.
The Guardian newspaper in London reported the settlements yesterday.
Blair’s lawyer, Graham Atkins of Atkins Thomson Solicitors, declined to comment when reached on his mobile phone.
At a hearing last month, Judge Geoffrey Vos said lawyers for the publisher and the victims must select seven or eight lead cases for the trial, including “famous and non-famous” people, to help determine a range of damages for different types of victims.
More than 80 people have been arrested in relation to wrongdoing at News Corp.’s U.K. operation, including Rebekah Brooks, its former chief executive officer.
Brooks is among eight former News Corp. journalists charged in July with conspiring to hack the phones of people including actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. A criminal trial is scheduled for September.
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