News International faces second wave of damages claims

 

Rupert Murdoch's News International is facing a second wave of damages claims from nearly 250 new victims of phone hacking which are likely to cost the media empire at least £10m to settle.

On the day that the first tranche of viable voicemail interception complaints came to an end with the announcement that NI was paying singer Charlotte Church and her family £600,000 in damages and lawyers' fees, the legal fall out from the scandal continued apace with the revelation that 194 individuals are preparing new claims in the High Court.

It also emerged that nearly 50 claims for hacking by the News of the World (NOTW) have been received by NI's own internal compensation scheme, overseen by a retired High Court judge, with 20 under active assessment prior to settlement.

During a pre-trial hearing, Mr Justice Vos, who has presided over the civil phone hacking litigation since early last year, said he expected that NI would make "superhuman efforts" to settle the valid cases against it just as it had done with 56 of the first 60 claims made  by victims including the Church family, actress Sienna Miller and the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing victims, said that 14 new cases had been filed against the NOTW with a further 180 who have "approached solicitors that we know about and have said they are considering claims".

The court was told that a trial date for the new cases should be set for February next year, by which stage Mr Justice Vos said he hoped that all remaining phone hacking compensation schemes would have been dealt with.

News International, which had been due yesterday to face the disclosure of embarassing details about its conduct at a trial of a Church claim, has hitherto made a point of settling as many claims as it can without a formal trial and the company is understood to have set aside a huge legal fund to allow it to draw a line under civil litigation.

Scotland Yard's Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking, announced yesterday that it had identified a total of 829 actual or potential victims of voicemail interception, of whom 231 were uncontactable.

Among the new claimants are the footballer Kieron Dyer, UKIP politician Nigel Farage, former prime minister Tony Blair's wife Cherie and former boxer Chris Eubank.

The court heard that four cases from the first wave of claims may yet need to be resolved with separate trials later this year. They include Nicola Phillips, former assistant to PR guru Max Clifford; former royal butler Paul Burrell; and Mary Ellen Field, the former adviser to supermodel Elle Macpherson.

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