The singer Charlotte Church was last night on the verge of settling her phone-hacking claim against the News of the World in a deal which would allow News International to avoid an embarrassing trial exposing the details of voicemail interception at the defunct Sunday tabloid.
The basis of an agreement between the singer, who along with her parents is suing the NOTW over 33 articles allegedly based on illegally obtained information, and Rupert Murdoch's media empire is understood to have been thrashed out over the weekend, along with a "substantial" six-figure payment reported to be as much as £500,000 including damages.
The settlement would mean that a High Court trial of Ms Church's case, which is due to start next Monday, will not go ahead, sparing NI further negative headlines the day after Mr Murdoch launches the first Sunday edition of The Sun this weekend in a high-profile attempt to draw a commercial line under the hacking scandal and claw back some of the lost market share caused by the closure of the NOTW. Ms Church, 26, and her parents, James and Maria, were the last remaining litigants with viable cases in the first wave of 60 civil claimants seeking damages after their phone messages were accessed.
The case, which would have required the airing of detailed evidence about the methods used by the NOTW and its private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to access voicemails, was intended to help the courts set benchmarks for the damages that future claimants could expect.
A legal source with knowledge of the case said the impending settlement meant it was "back to square one" as a second wave of victims, who include the singer James Blunt and politician Nigel Farage, start their claims.
Ms Church's case threatened to be particularly damaging to News International's already battered image.
The complaint included a story about her father's private life which, it was alleged, had led to her mother trying to kill herself.
It was reported last night that News Group Newspapers, the NI subsidiary which published the NOTW, has agreed to pay between £380,000 and £500,000 in damages and legal costs to the family. The Financial Times said the damages element of the figure was around £180,000. Ms Church's lawyer did not return requests for a comment. News International declined to comment.