The Metropolitan Police yesterday admitted it had unlawfully failed to tell five high-profile individuals, including the former deputy prime minister John Prescott, that their voicemail messages had been hacked by the News of the World.
London's police force abandoned its year-long legal fight against a judicial review brought by Lord Prescott, MP Chris Bryant, former police officer Brian Paddick, actor Jude Law's personal assistant Ben Jackson and an anonymous individual, HJK, apologised to each and agreed to pay all costs – estimated at up to £1m.
Names, phone numbers and personal details for all five victims are thought to have been in notes seized by the Met from the NOTW's private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006, but despite the individuals' requests, officers repeatedly told them there was little or no evidence they had been eavesdropped.
After spending tens of thousands of pounds fighting their case, Scotland Yard hauled up the white flag yesterday and admitted it had breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone "the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence".
The claimants' solicitor, Tamsin Allen, of Bindmans, estimated their costs could reach £500,000. She said: "It could be that much because they [the Met] did keep defending this claim over a year and a half. This is a case they should have caved in a year ago."
Scotland Yard said it was "pleased" to have concluded the case and accepted it should have done more to inform victims of hacking years ago. It blamed an upsurge in terrorism for its inadequate investigation in 2006. For years, senior officers insisted there were only "a handful" of victims, but the current estimate is at least 829.
Lord Prescott said: "Time and time again, I was told by the Metropolitan Police that I had not been targeted by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. But I refused to accept this was the case. Thanks to this judicial review, the Metropolitan Police has finally apologised for its failure to inform victims of the criminal acts committed by the News of the World against myself and hundreds of other victims of phone hacking."
Operation Weeting was launched in January 2011 following the launch of the judicial review, a spate of civil privacy claims against the News of the World and investigations by newspapers.