The News Corp. Phone Hacking Scandal Never Ends

A look at the latest developments

The story so far: Clive Goodman, a journalist for Rupert Murdoch’s English tabloid, the News of the World, was sent to prison in 2006, along with a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, for hacking into the voicemail messages of Prince William and Prince Henry. News International, the UK newspaper-owning subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation has consistently claimed that the phone-hacking was confined to a single rogue reporter, but evidence uncovered by the Guardian and New York Times has suggested otherwise.

There has been a slight lull in coverage of the phone-hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News International, partly because of the ubiquitous coverage of the Royal Wedding and partly because there have been no new sensational developments, such as further arrests of News of the World journalists. However, that does not mean that there have been no developments of note.

Firstly, the Metropolitan Police has admitted that it warned only 36 people that they may have been targeted by Glenn Mulcaire during the first four years of the phone-hacking case. This is in spite of the fact that the number of persons whose names and telephone details were on lists confiscated from Mulcaire by police in 2006 is around 4,000. In a letter to John Whittingdale, the MP who chairs the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee of the House of Commons, John Yates, the Met’s acting deputy commissioner, has admitted that fewer than 1 percent of the potential victims were contacted by officers. The original criminal investigation of Mulcaire back in 2006 led to the Met warning 28 people, while a further eight potential victims were warned in 2009 – numbers which had been kept secret until now. This is an embarrassment to the Met, at the very least, since it assured the director of Public Prosecutions that it would warn all of Mulcaire’s potential victims.

One individual who has since been named is Wayne Rooney, one of the highest-paid footballers in the UK. Scotland Yard detectives visited him recently and showed him pages from Mulcaire’s notebooks, which contained his mobile phone number and those of persons from his circle of acquaintance. Rooney, whose private life featured in a number of News of the World exclusives in 2005 and 2006 (although there is not necessarily any link between those stories and phone hacking), has indicated that he is likely to pursue legal action against the newspaper.

“Scotland Yard detectives came to see me earlier and showed me some documents,” he told his Twitter followers. “[L]ooks like a newspaper have hacked into my phone #Bigsurprise.” Rooney, whose wife Colleen tweeted that the phone hacking was “desperate and disgusting”, was probably one of the few people for whom this came as a surprise.

Cat Deeley, the British presenter of the US television show So You Think You Can Dance, who was over in London to commentate on the Royal Wedding, revealed that she was convinced she had been targeted “at some point” on the grounds that “certain phone conversations I’ve had have been repeated back to me, almost word for word”. She refused to respond to press enquiries based on these hacked conversations and since no tabloid stories appeared she chose not to initiate legal proceedings.

On the day of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Rupert Murdoch was accosted by Joe Strupp, a reporter from the American liberal press watchdog Media Matters, at a brunch in Washington. “Can you assure Americans that there won't be any phone hacking by the New York Post?” Strupp asked. “Or by Fox News?” Murdoch answered that he had “nothing to say… nothing at all”, before telling Strupp to go away.

According to an article about the phone-hacking scandal by Sarah Ellison in the latest edition of Vanity Fair, former executives at News International are saying that News Corp non-executives in New York are appalled at the mishandling of the affair by the current News International management, led by Rebekah Brooks. In the estimation of Guardian blogger James Robinson, “this may well give the News Corp board, and the company's shareholders, a powerful incentive to argue that the group’s future would safer if it were in the hands of a more experienced executive such as Chase Carey. Murdoch has always got his way in the past, but a retiring Murdoch may be easier to overrule for the simple reason he won’t be around to complain about it. If hacking prevented Murdoch from fulfilling his final corporate wish–keeping News Corp in the family–it would be an incredible end to a remarkable story.”

The Vanity Fair article also reveals that Formula 1 president Max Mosley, who won £60,000 in damages for invasion of his privacy by the News of the World in 2008 (though not as a result of phone hacking), has offered to underwrite the legal costs of potential phone-hacking litigants unable to afford legal representation. “In a number of cases I’ve said to people, ‘If you lose, I'll stand behind you’… In Britain, to bring a lawsuit, you either have to have no money at all or be eccentric.”

One litigant who needs no such support is the actor Jude Law, whose ex-girlfriend Sienna Miller, the actress, is already suing the News of the World. After he was told by Scotland Yard that Mulcaire had accessed his voicemail, Law has issued proceedings against both Mulcaire and News International. In a further twist, Graham Shear, a solicitor at the firm of Berwin, Leighton, Paisner, who has represented the actor in the past along with several England footballers, announced that he has also issued proceedings against News Group, the subsidiary of News International that published the Sun and the News of the World. “The police came to see me and alerted me that I was the subject of, or appeared to be the subject of, phone hacking relating to a client or clients during 2004 and 2005,” he explained. “We are currently awaiting additional disclosure from the police and from News Group and cross-referencing with other victims of phone hacking.”

While more and more claimants emerge, we have learnt how News International is seeking to distinguish between claims when it comes to assessing the amount of compensation it will offer. The company will use a sliding scale, explains Steve Kuncewicz, digital media lawyer at HBJ Gateley Wareing. The lowest awards will be made to those claimants who can demonstrate that their phone number and PIN number were used, the next level of award will be made to those who can show that their voicemails were actually accessed by a News International journalist or private investigator working for one of the company’s newspapers, and the highest level of award will be made to those cases where the hacking of voicemail led to publication of a story.

“If settlements aren’t reached, then the court will need to look at the effect that the hacking has had on each claimant, including upon their career and private life, which could lead to record amounts of compensation being awarded,” says Kuncewicz. “Miller in particular is taking the risk that she will recover more than the £100,000 she has been offered and she may well be right to, but the court will still take the original offer into account when making any costs award.”

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