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News International Settles with 37 Alleged Hacking Victims

New revelations could affect case against News Corp. in the U.S.
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News International has agreed to settle with 37 victims of News Group Newspapers’ alleged phone hacking, The Guardian reported today.

In a statement, the victims’ lawyers said that News Group Newspapers, which was the owner of News of the World, agreed to pay damages on the basis that the company’s “senior employees and directors…knew about the wrongdoing and sought to conceal it by deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence.”

Although News Group Newspapers refused to deny or admit to any of the claims, it based compensation on the assumption that the allegations were true, which the victims’ lawyers said was equivalent to an admission of guilt.

Among those who received settlements were actor Jude Law (£130,000 plus legal costs), his ex-wife Sadie Frost (£50,000 plus costs) and former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott (£40,000 plus costs). The round of settlements, including legal costs, are expected to total more than £1m, according to the Guardian.

Eighteen of the victims made statements in court, including Law, who said that his voicemail had been hacked from January 2003 to August 2006 and that the illegally obtained information had been published in 16 separate articles. According to Law’s statement, News International also admitted to having hacked into his phone on U.S. soil, while he was at JFK Airport in New York.

“It was not just that my phone messages were listened to,” Law said. “News Group also paid people to watch me and my house for days at a time and to follow me and those close to me both in this country and abroad.”

These latest revelations could affect the case against News Corp. in the U.S., where no charges have been officially filed against the company. In a statement, Free Press Senior Director of Strategy Timothy Karr said the settlements “should compel the FBI and Department of Justice to accelerate investigations into alleged illegal acts by the company here in the U.S.,” adding that “News Corp. has spent nearly 70 million dollars on campaign contributions and lobbyists” in Washington, including efforts to encourage Congress to pass the controversial SOPA and PIPA acts.

Today's settlements come in addition to the millions of pounds already paid to alleged victims, including £2 million to the family of Milly Dowler, plus another £1 million promised by Rupert Murdoch to the family’s choice of charity–the largest settlement so far. More settlements are expected to come, while 10 other hacking cases, included those involving actor Steve Coogan and singer Charlotte Church, are still planned for a full court hearing on Feb. 13.