Hugh Grant gets an apology from Murdoch

Duchess of York and  Christopher Eccleston also settle hacking cases in High Court

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The Independent Online

The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, actors Hugh Grant and Christopher Eccleston, and the Catholic parish priest of singer Charlotte Church, Father Richard Reardon, were among 17 phone-hacking victims offered  public apologies in the High Court  today by News International.

The “sincere” contrition and undisclosed “substantial” damages for a total of 144 cases, means that 26 victims of the News of the World’s illegal phone-hacking activities, have yet to settle with Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper division in the latest wave of claims.

Among the claimants who opted for a court-room apology were singer James Blunt, Uri Geller, Geoffrey Robinson, the former Labour minister, and Colin Stagg, the man wrongly accused of the murder of Rachel Nickell. Mr Stagg, one of the few to have his damages disclosed, was awarded £15,500.

Those who settled, but opted to keep the terms of the arrangement private, included Cherie Blair QC, the wife of the former prime minister, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, TV presenters Jamie Theakston and Chris Tarrant, Ted Beckham, the father of the former England football captain, former Tory minister Lord Blencathra, actor James Nesbitt, footballer Wayne Rooney, and BBC reporter Tom Mangold.

Lawyers acting for the remaining claimants anticipate around 20 more cases will settle in the next few weeks. However, a sufficient number are expected to remain, pointing to a trial date this summer. Hugh Tomlinson QC, the lead counsel for the victims, told the court that the Metropolitan Police were continuing to identify and notify new people who had been targeted by the News of the World. Mr Tomlinson said a third wave of hacking claimants could not be ruled out and was likely to number “more than 10 but less than 100”.

Those yet to settle their privacy actions with News Group Newspapers, a subsidiary of News International, include Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, Chris Eubank, politician Tommy Sheridan, Tara Palmer Tomkinson, entrepreneur Simon Jordan, TV producer Nigel Lythgoe, and former union boss Tony Woodley.

Though the settlement deals were not made public, leading lawyers involved in the process suggested the scale was similar to amounts awarded last year when MP Chris Bryant received £30,000 and Lord Prescott £50,000.

The hearing continued to tread carefully in describing the behaviour of journalists and others at the News of the World over fears of influencing the outcome of criminal trials on phone hacking scheduled for later this year.

The continuing stream of new cases, and the likelihood there will another wave of potentially expensive civil actions, means attempts by News Corp, the parent company of Murdoch’s newspaper division, to draw a line under the phone-hacking scandal has had limited success.

The board of the Murdoch-owned company are planning to hive off their print business into a separate company. That will now take place with the toxicity of phone hacking still prevalent.

Hugh Grant, who said he would be donating part of his settlement to the Hacked Off pressure group, later Tweeted that he wanted his case to go to a full trial, but had been prevented from doing so by libel law restrictions.

All of the victims who settled had their mobile phone voicemails illegally intercepted by journalists or others employed by the News of the World. Some had also been put under surveillance by private investigators employed by the tabloid, which NI closed in 2011.

Hacked off: The targets

Hugh Grant

The actor was a target for the NOTW because of the stories he generated from having “well- known relationships and friendships with various high profile women”.

All the damages Mr Grant received today will go to the Hacked-Off media pressure group.

Christopher Eccleston

The  former Doctor Who actor, took his family on holiday to Cornwall.

An article about the holiday appeared in the NOTW. Mr Eccleston was told his phone had been illegally accessed 16 times and private information obtained.

Hannah Cleaver

Ms Cleaver, a Berlin-based freelance journalist, was targeted for the information that senior journalists at the NOTW thought they could get by hacking her phone.

It was their way of listening in on the competition.

Father Richard Reardon

Among his parishioners in Cardiff was Charlotte Church and her family. The family told him their troubles, sometimes on his mobile phone.

Neither he nor the Churchs knew that the NOTW was intercepting the exchanges.