Criminal practices inside the News of the World went far further than phone hacking, it emerged yesterday, as News International finally admitted in the High Court that it also illegally accessed computer emails.
In an hour-long series of humbling and expensive apologies that potentially passed £10m in damages and legal costs, the admission of computer hacking opens up a new chapter in the scandal, threatening the already shredded reputation of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
After months of denial and legal obstruction, News International offered a series of "sincere apologies" for the "damage and distress" it had caused to the private lives of victims of phone hacking, blagging and excessive surveillance.
News International's leading counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, confirmed that Murdoch titles had unlawfully accessed the emails of the son of the serial killer Harold Shipman and the freelance journalist Tom Rowland. The scale of the payouts to victims – including £130,000 to the actor Jude Law and £50,000 to his former wife Sadie Frost – dominated the hearing before Mr Justice Vos. But Mark Lewis, the lawyer representing the family of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, described the settlements as "just the tip of the iceberg".
In the new settlements, a total of £645,000 was awarded to 15 hacking victims, with "substantial" damages awarded to three others. News International will be responsible for the legal costs, which are likely to be six-figure sums in most cases.
Confirmation that email hacking took place backs up the claim made last April by Sienna Miller that her email account had been accessed. An out-of-court settlement of £100,000 prevented further disclosures by the actress.
It has previously been revealed that the Metropolitan Police's ongoing investigation into computer hacking, Operation Tuleta, has uncovered evidence that the former British intelligence officer Ian Hurst had his emails hacked as part of a NOTW commission. Eighteen other seized computers are currently being investigated by Tuleta officers for further evidence of illegal email access.
Mr Justice Vos rejected an appeal by Mr Silverleaf to have the trial scheduled for 13 February cancelled. The hearing was told by NI's counsel that it was "not necessary for a civil trial of any kind", because News International was "ready, willing and able" to offer "fair and generous" damages to the 10 individuals who have so far not reached an agreement.Reuse content