PRIVACY – Phone hacking – trial over allegations of hacking at The Sun settles at the last minute

A further round of phone hacking litigation against the publisher of The Sun and the News of the World has settled just as a six-week trial was about to begin at the High Court.

The Claimants, comedian Vic Reeves (whose claim was under his birth name, Jim Moir), TV presenter Kate Thornton, Coronation Street actor Jimmi Harkishin and talent agent Chris Herbert, received compensation from News Group Newspapers on confidential terms, but believed to be in six figures. Each claimant was also estimated to have racked up about £450,000 to £500,000 in legal costs.

The trial was to focus on allegations of phone hacking at both the News of The World, which closed in 2011, and The Sun. News Group has never admitted that hacking took place at The Sun, and it continued to deny it in these proceedings. The trial would have brought the alleged involvement of senior journalists and executives at both newspapers back into focus more than ten years after the events in question. The Claimants’ counsel, 5RB’s David Sherborne, had told the court that the claimants would ‘allege criminality at the most senior level: James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks’.

The trial would also have determined generic claims relating to hacking at The Sun, and an alleged conspiracy by senior executives to destroy documents, computer records and emails. These would have provided a template for the approach to further claims which are in the pipeline.

The Judge criticised the parties, noting that while settlement was a good thing, it ‘raises different issues for test cases’. He said that the last-minute deal ‘enhanced the view that I already had that I have not so much been managing cases to trial as managing them to settlement’.

The trial was to have been heard at a challenging time for News Group, and the Murdoch family which controls it.

Along with other newspaper publishers, News Group still cannot rule out the possibility of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, due to look at unlawful conduct at the News of the World and other newspapers, taking place. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband said, ‘This last-minute deal is yet another case of the Murdochs going to extraordinary lengths to prevent detailed scrutiny of what really happened at their newspapers. It shows why we need the Leveson 2 inquiry to get to the truth.’

The phone hacking scandal continues adversely to affect the Murdoch Empire years after it began, and there is no sign that this will end any time soon.