Murdoch paper in Britain apologises for phone hacking

8th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

The owner of Britain's News of the World newspaper offered an "unreserved apology" on Friday for phone hacking and said it would set up a compensation fund.

Rupert Murdoch's News International said it admitted liability in some cases brought against the News of the World, Britain's top-selling newspaper.

Actress Sienna Miller is believed to be among those offered a settlement.

The apology came three days after police arrested the Sunday tabloid's chief reporter and a former news editor on suspicion of having unlawfully intercepted mobile phone voicemail messages.

News International, which also publishes The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times, admitted its first internal inquiry into the hacking "failed to uncover important evidence.

"Following an extensive internal investigation and disclosures through civil legal cases, News International has decided to approach some civil litigants with an unreserved apology and an admission of liability in cases meeting specific criteria," the group said in a statement.

It added: "Past behaviour at the News of the World in relation to voicemail interception is a matter of genuine regret.

"It is now apparent that our previous inquiries failed to uncover important evidence and we acknowledge our actions then were not sufficiently robust.

The group said it had asked its lawyers to establish a compensation scheme "with a view to dealing with justifiable claims fairly and efficiently.

"This will bring the process of bringing these cases to a fair resolution with damages appropriate to the extent of the intrusion," it said.

"We will, however, continue to contest cases that we believe are without merit or where we are not responsible."

The BBC reported that News International has earmarked about £20 million ($32.5 million, 22.5 million euros) in total for the compensation fund, but that it expected most payments to be about £100,000.

Mark Lewis, a lawyer involved in several of the current cases, welcomed the announcement as "a step in the right direction."

The News International statement did not say which cases it had decided to settle, but apart from Sienna Miller, former cabinet minister Tessa Jowell and sports commentator Andy Gray were reported to be among others offered payoffs.

Miller, who has an on-off relationship with actor Jude Law, obtained a High Court ruling on Tuesday ordering Vodafone to disclose data relating to other mobile phone users so she can identify who tried to access her voicemails.

On the same day, police arrested the News of the World's chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, and a former news editor, Ian Edmondson. They were bailed to return to a court in September.

The fresh controversy comes at an awkward time for media mogul Murdoch, as his News Corp. -- the parent group of News International -- is poised to take full control of broadcaster BSkyB in the face of resistance from media rivals.

In 2007, the initial police investigation into phone hacking led to the convictions and jailing of the News of the World's royal correspondent Clive Goodman and a private investigator.

It emerged they had hacked into the mobile phone messages of Princes William and Harry to obtain information for use in stories.

The News of the World insisted then that Goodman and investigator Glenn Mulcaire were acting alone, but London's Metropolitan Police reopened their investigation earlier this year after fresh revelations suggesting the practice was widespread.

That move came days after the tabloid's former editor, Andy Coulson, quit as head of communications for Prime Minister David Cameron.

Coulson had resigned as editor when Goodman was jailed but insisted he knew nothing of the phone hacking. He continues to deny wrongdoing, but said the continuing scandal was distracting him from his job with Cameron.

© 2011 AFP

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