Apology over phone hacking scandal

News of the World publisher News International sought to draw a line under the phone hacking scandal today, apologising and admitting liability in a number of cases.

The company said it had instructed lawyers to set up a compensation scheme to deal with "justifiable claims" and said "past behaviour" at the newspaper was "a matter of genuine regret".

The dramatic announcement came after a number of well-known figures took High Court action over allegations of phone-hacking, including actresses Leslie Ash and Sienna Miller.

The company did not identify which cases it was admitting liability in but said the move applied to allegations of voicemail hacking at the News of the World from 2004 to 2006.

Mark Lewis, who is acting for a number of stars who claimed their phones were hacked, said the final compensation bill could easily run into millions of pounds.

In a statement, the company said: "News International has decided to approach some civil litigants with an unreserved apology and an admission of liability in cases meeting specific criteria.

"We have also asked our lawyers to establish a compensation scheme with a view to dealing with justifiable claims fairly and efficiently.

"This will begin the process of bringing these cases to a fair resolution with damages appropriate to the extent of the intrusion."

But the company said it would continue to contest cases that it believed were without merit.

The statement went on: "That said, past behaviour at the News of the World in relation to voicemail interception is a matter of genuine regret.

"It is now apparent that our previous inquiries failed to uncover important evidence and we acknowledge our actions then were not sufficiently robust."

The company is working with the Metropolitan Police and it said it was its own "voluntary disclosure" in January which led to the re-opening of the police investigation.

Mr Lewis welcomed the announcement.

"At the moment it's not been disclosed who is going to be compensated or how," he said.

"But it's a step in the right direction."

Mr Lewis, of Taylor Hampton Solicitors, said the victims now wanted to know the truth about what happened, a full apology and an undertaking from the newspaper "never to do it again".

Asked about the level of compensation expected, he said: "It will depend on what happened to the individuals involved.

"For some of these people, it has had far-reaching effects on their career. Some people have lost their jobs."

The controversy has been a source of continuing embarrassment for News International at a time when its parent group, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, has been seeking to take full control of BSkyB.

Officers questioned Thurlbeck and Edmondson on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages.

The men were later released on police bail to return in September.

Thurlbeck is a veteran reporter who has brought in some of the News of the World's most famous scoops, while Edmondson was sacked as the paper's assistant editor (news) in January after evidence emerged which appeared to link him to phone-tapping.

The arrests underlined the Metropolitan Police's determination to investigate the scandal thoroughly after criticism that an earlier inquiry was inadequate.

They were the first people arrested since Scotland Yard reopened its inquiry into the claims.

A committee of MPs heard allegations in 2009 that a transcript of voicemail messages between Professional Footballers' Association boss Gordon Taylor and his legal adviser was prepared for Thurlbeck.

Scotland Yard has endured repeated criticism over its handling of its original phone-hacking inquiry, which led to the conviction of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007.

The paper's former editor Andy Coulson resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications in January as he admitted that the continuing row about the affair was making his job impossible.

Days later the Met launched a fresh investigation, codenamed Operation Weeting, after receiving "significant new information" from News International.

The decision came amid a steady flow of new allegations about the hacking of the mobile phone messages of high-profile public figures, said to include actress Sienna Miller, her ex-partner Jude Law, former prime minister Gordon Brown, former footballer Paul Gascoigne, comedian Steve Coogan and sports commentator Andy Gray.

Miller obtained a High Court ruling on Tuesday ordering Vodafone to disclose data relating to other mobile phone users so she can identify who called her number in an attempt to access her voicemails.

Supermodel Elle Macpherson's former adviser Mary-Ellen Field, Nicola Phillips, former assistant to celebrity publicist Max Clifford, and jockey Kieren Fallon were among those who have issued proceedings against the News of the World, Mr Lewis said.

Ms Field, who advised the supermodel on intellectual property and licensing agreements from March 2003, lost her job in January 2005 after Macpherson accused her of leaking stories to the press.

In a message on micro-blogging website Twitter, former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said:

"The Government should NOT approve Murdoch's bid for BSkyB until all investigations are complete."

Lord Prescott and Labour MP Chris Bryant are seeking judicial review of the police response to their cases.

Mr Bryant, who also believes he was a hacking victim, said: "This is nothing but a damage limitation exercise by News International, which proves that everything they've said about this case to date has been a pack of lies.

"There wasn't just one reporter. There weren't very few victims. Nobody ever did a thorough investigation in 2006 or 2009.

"Senior figures at the paper must have been aware of what was going on and should now resign."

Publicist Max Clifford, who brought a private case against the News of the World and received a reported settlement of £1 million, said: "I think this is a step in the right direction. I am very glad they have done this.

"They have done a very thorough investigation themselves and clearly what they have discovered has made them make this decision.

"In view of what they have discovered, clearly this was the best thing for them to do - it was a pre-emptive strike.

"From a PR point of view they're making the best of a bad situation.

"It is going to cost them a lot of money for the people who have genuine claims as well as people who do not have genuine claims who are going to jump on the bandwagon.

"There are also a lot of people who believe they have been hacked by the News of the World."

On Wednesday, former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, one of the public figures who has alleged his phone was hacked, said the controversial takeover should be delayed until police have completed their inquiry into the allegations.

On Tuesday detectives investigating the allegations arrested the paper's chief reporter and its former head of news.

Neville Thurlbeck, 50, and Ian Edmondson, 42, were held by Scotland Yard detectives when they voluntarily attended separate police stations in south west London.

Officers questioned the pair on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages.

The men were later released on police bail to return in September.

Thurlbeck is a veteran reporter who has brought in some of the News of the World's most famous scoops, while Edmondson was sacked as the paper's assistant editor (news) in January after evidence emerged linking him to phone-tapping.

The arrests underlined the Metropolitan Police's determination to investigate the scandal thoroughly after criticism that an earlier inquiry was inadequate.

They were the first people arrested since Scotland Yard reopened its inquiry into the claims.

A committee of MPs heard allegations in 2009 that a transcript of voicemail messages between Professional Footballers' Association boss Gordon Taylor and his legal adviser was prepared for Thurlbeck.

Scotland Yard has endured repeated criticism over its handling of its original phone-hacking inquiry, which led to the conviction of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007.

The paper's former editor Andy Coulson resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications in January as he admitted that the continuing row about the affair was making his job impossible.

Days later the Met launched a fresh investigation, codenamed Operation Weeting, after receiving "significant new information" from News International.

The decision came amid a steady flow of new allegations about the hacking of the mobile phone messages of high-profile public figures, said to include actress Sienna Miller, her ex-partner Jude Law, former prime minister Gordon Brown, former footballer Paul Gascoigne, comedian Steve Coogan and sports commentator Andy Gray.

Miller obtained a High Court ruling on Tuesday ordering Vodafone to disclose data relating to other mobile phone users so she can identify who called her number in an attempt to access her voicemails.

Supermodel Elle Macpherson's former adviser Mary-Ellen Field, Nicola Phillips, former assistant to celebrity publicist Max Clifford, and jockey Kieren Fallon were among those who have issued proceedings against the News of the World, Mr Lewis said.

Ms Field, who advised the supermodel on intellectual property and licensing agreements from March 2003, lost her job in January 2005 after Macpherson accused her of leaking stories to the press.

In a message on micro-blogging website Twitter, former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said: "The NOTW has now admitted mass criminality.

"The Government should NOT approve Murdoch's bid for BSkyB until all investigations are complete."

Lord Prescott and Labour MP Chris Bryant are seeking judicial review of the police response to their cases.

Mr Bryant, who also believes he was a hacking victim, said: "This is nothing but a damage limitation exercise by News International, which proves that everything they've said about this case to date has been a pack of lies.

"There wasn't just one reporter. There weren't very few victims. Nobody ever did a thorough investigation in 2006 or 2009.

"Senior figures at the paper must have been aware of what was going on and should now resign."

Publicist Max Clifford, who brought a private case against the News of the World and received a reported settlement of £1 million, said: "I think this is a step in the right direction. I am very glad they have done this.

"They have done a very thorough investigation themselves and clearly what they have discovered has made them make this decision.

"In view of what they have discovered, clearly this was the best thing for them to do - it was a pre-emptive strike.

"From a PR point of view they're making the best of a bad situation.

"It is going to cost them a lot of money for the people who have genuine claims as well as people who do not have genuine claims who are going to jump on the bandwagon.

"There are also a lot of people who believe they have been hacked by the News of the World."