News Corp. (NWSA), former publisher of the shuttered News of the World tabloid, was hit last week with accusations that reporters hacked into voice mails as late as 2008, a year after a reporter and detective were jailed for the offense.
Jade Goody, the reality TV star who died of cervical cancer in 2009, may have had her phone hacked by News of the World reporters in the months leading up to her death, according to Max Clifford, her former public-relations representative.
If proven true, the allegation indicates hacking continued two years after private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and former royal reporter Clive Goodman illegally accessed story subjects’ voice mails. Goodman and Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 for hacking. James Murdoch, deputy operating chief of News Corp. and head of the company’s U.K. publishing unit, has repeatedly said he didn’t know hacking was widespread at the tabloid and that wrongdoing took place before he joined the company in 2007.
“If it was going on as late as 2008, serious questions will be asked as to what procedures were in place to stop it from happening again internally,” said Niri Shan, the head of media law at Taylor Wessing LLP in London. Murdoch “is in charge, so he’s ultimately responsible.”
News Corp.’s directors will also be sued in the U.S. by victims of News of the World hackers, lawyer Mark Lewis said in an interview broadcast on Sky News last week. Lawyers are looking at what directors at the New York-based corporation should have known about hacking activities and will seek to speak with James Murdoch and his father, News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, Lewis said in a separate interview on the BBC.
Andy Coulson, an ex-News of the World editor who also served as Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief, separately filed a lawsuit against News Corp.’s U.K. publishing unit. Coulson, who resigned after Mulcaire and Goodman pleaded guilty to hacking, is fighting News Corp.’s decision to stop paying his legal fees, a person familiar with the case said.
Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for the unit, News International, declined to comment on the accusations about Goody’s phone, the U.S. case or the Coulson lawsuit.
At least 16 people have been arrested in the U.K. police probe into hacking since it resumed earlier this year, including Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive officer of News International.
Clifford settled his own suit against the tabloid last year for about 1 million pounds ($1.6 million), according to a person with knowledge of the settlement who declined to be identified because the deal is private.
Claims about the breadth of hacking at the tabloid gained momentum when it was revealed News of the World staff hacked into the voice mail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler while she was missing in 2002. Companies pulled their advertisements from the tabloid, which was the largest Sunday newspaper in the U.K. at the time, and it was shuttered in July.
News Corp. agreed to pay 3 million pounds to settle the Dowler family’s claims, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week. A lawsuit by Goody’s family may require a similarly large settlement, Shan said.
“To hack into the phone of someone with a terminal cancer is not going to go well,” Shan said. “If a claim is brought, they’re going to have to pay a lot of money to get rid of it.”
Accusations have spread from there. Reporters may also have paid police for stories, London’s Metropolitan Police said in July. There are also indications News of the World wasn’t the only paper that participated. A reporter who was recorded getting instructions on how to hack into phones while working for the Evening Standard was arrested this month.
News Corp., which faces a U.K. parliamentary probe of phone hacking by its employees, is also the subject of criminal investigations in the U.S. Prosecutors are examining whether employees of Rupert Murdoch’s company tried to access the voice mails of victims of the 9-11 terror attacks, broke antitrust or related laws and, according to a person familiar with the probe, bribed U.K. police for information.
The third line of inquiry was disclosed in a U.S. letter to the company requesting information on any bribes paid by News of the World, said the person, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. The letter is part of a Justice Department effort to determine whether News Corp. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, the person said.
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