News Corp. (NWSA:US) faces as many as 100 more lawsuits over tabloid phone hacking, lawyers said at a London court hearing as the company formally apologized to Hugh Grant and Sarah Ferguson to resolve their claims.
While the company has settled 144 cases since November, lawsuits will continue to be filed as police notify more victims, Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for claimants, said in court today. Tomlinson spoke at a hearing where the publisher’s lawyers again read out detailed apologies to celebrities and other public figures whose voice mail was intercepted by the News of the World tabloid.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the newspaper in July 2011 in response to public anger over revelations it intercepted the mobile-phone messages of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler a decade ago. Prosecutors overseeing criminal cases against some of the tabloid’s ex-employees have said the title victimized more than 600 people between 2000 and 2006.
A civil trial on the claims is scheduled for June for about two dozen cases that haven’t been settled. Tomlinson said six new claimants will seek to join the trial today.
The publisher, News International, has resolved about 700 claims by victims, including more than 200 settlements approved by a judge and hundreds of others that used an out-of-court process created by the company about two years ago. Police have said the tabloid had thousands of “potential victims,” though the level of evidence varies.
As part of its settlement of Grant’s case, News Corp. agreed it intercepted his voice mail starting in 2004, placed him under surveillance and collected “significant” telephone numbers. The resulting tabloid articles prompted Grant, who starred in the comedy “Notting Hill,” to mistrust some friends and acquaintances in the past because he suspected leaks, according to the apology read in court.
Ferguson, the former wife of Prince Andrew, actor Christopher Eccleston and singer Kerry Katona also received apologies as part of their settlements today. News International also paid undisclosed sums to the victims.
Each written apology included details about the hacking. Ferguson’s said she experienced “unusual activity” on her mobile phone from 2000 to 2006, and photographers frequently knew her whereabouts at private events.
Jeff Brazier, a former professional soccer player and reality-TV star, said the tabloid’s hacking of his phone had caused distrust in his relationship with fellow reality-TV star Jade Goody, who died in 2009, according to the apology filed in court.
Brazier “is very distressed that he can now never apologize to Ms. Goody for the times that he did not believe her despite her denials that she was the source of particular private information in the public domain,” according to the apology.
While most settlement amounts have been confidential, the company paid as much as 600,000 pounds ($948,000) to the Welsh singer Charlotte Church, including 300,000 pounds in legal costs, and 130,000 pounds to actor Jude Law.
Richard Reardon, the priest for Church, also settled his Claim today. “The sacrosanct relationship between a priest and a parishioner has been violated,” according to the apology.
The Dowler family, whose daughter was murdered a decade ago, received an in-person apology from Murdoch and 3 million pounds, including 1 million pounds for a charity.
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