British tabloid apologises to phone-hacking victims

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The owner of Britain's News of the World tabloid offered an "unreserved apology" Friday and a promise of compensation to victims of phone hacking by its journalists.

The announcement by Rupert Murdoch's News International came three days after police arrested the weekly's chief reporter and a former news editor on suspicion of unlawfully intercepting mobile phone voicemail messages.

News International said it would admit liability in a number of cases brought against the News of the World.

"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 statement did not say which cases it had decided to settle, but Hollywood actress Sienna Miller is among the celebrities who had taken civil action against the newspaper.

The News of the World's royal reporter Clive Goodman and a private investigator were jailed in 2007 for conspiracy to access mobile phone messages involving Princes William and Harry.

Police reopened their investigations earlier this year after fresh revelations suggesting the practice was widespread -- something the paper had always denied.

That move prompted the tabloid's former editor, Andy Coulson, to 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 new investigation was distracting him from his job with Cameron.

On Tuesday, 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.

© 2011 AFP

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