News Corp. (NWSA) agreed to pay 600,000 pounds ($950,000) to Charlotte Church, the U.K. pop star, and admitted its News of the World tabloid hacked her mobile-phone messages for “many years,” starting when she was 16 years old.
At a court hearing today in London, News Corp. lawyers said the company regularly harassed Church’s family, put them under surveillance, hacked the phone of her father and acquired details of her mother’s “complex medical history” and suicide attempt to write scoops about the Welsh singer, now 26.
“I would have learned nothing more from an actual trial, since it is clear that no one from News International was prepared to take the stand to explain their actions,” Church said in a statement about the company’s U.K. publishing unit. “In my opinion, they are not truly sorry, only sorry that they got caught.”
One of about 70 victims to sue News International, Church settled last week, days before the first civil trial over the scandal was to begin. The deal comes after a person familiar with the matter, who isn’t authorized to speak about the case, said Church’s agent in Los Angeles and publicist in New York have been identified as the first potential American victims of the tabloid’s hacking.
Church, a mother of two, told an inquiry into media ethics that News Corp.’s Sun daily tabloid may have hacked her phone to report her pregnancy in 2007 before she’d told her friends and family. While that claim wasn’t part of her case, the company said today it had obtained the singer’s private medical information through phone-hacking and didn’t elaborate.
Church and her parents, James and Maria, sued in December after the Metropolitan Police showed them evidence the News of the World’s ex-private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed for phone hacking, had intercepted their phone messages as recently as 2006 to write stories about them.
Church, who sang at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding in 1999, when she was 13, had sought special damages in the case due to the distress the stories caused her mother. The News of the World in 2005 reported Church’s father was having an affair and used cocaine, and that her mother tried to kill herself as a result.
“The trial wasn’t going to be about phone hacking,” Church said last week in an interview at her home near Cardiff, Wales. “They were going to do everything they could to weaken us, especially my mom. That’s obviously where it was going and I didn’t want to see them go through it again.”
The settlement came after the company won a judge’s permission to examine Maria Church’s mental state during a trial, potentially to reduce damages. By the time the deal was reached, the singer’s mother had already submitted to a medical exam at News Corp.’s request, Church said.
News Corp. “has an immense amount of power,” Church said. “I know how difficult it was for my mom and she did an amazing job.”
News Corp. said today it had harassed Church’s mother in the past and coerced her into giving an interview about her attempted suicide. The company wouldn’t have been as forthcoming at a trial, the singer said.
News International was “prepared to go to any lengths to prevent me exposing their behavior,” Church said her statement today. The company sought to turn the case “into an interrogation of my mother’s medical condition, forcing her to re-live the enormous personal distress they caused.”
News Corp., which shuttered the News of the World in July in an attempt to contain public anger, still faces more claims. The police have identified 829 potential victims and News Corp. is facing 14 new phone-hacking cases, company lawyer Hugh Tomlinson said at the hearing today. Cherie Blair, the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, sued the New York-based company last week. The company published the first Sunday edition of the Sun yesterday.
At a separate judicial inquiry into press ethics today, the police officer in charge of criminal probes into phone hacking, computer hacking and bribes at News Corp.’s U.K. titles, said there was a culture of corrupt payments at the Sun. Ten of the tabloid’s journalists have been arrested in the bribery probe.
“The journalists had a network upon which to call at various strategic places across public life,” Metropolitan Police Service Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told the inquiry in London. Payments may have been made to soldiers, Ministry of Defense officials and other public servants, as well as police officers, she said.
‘Of the Past’
Murdoch said in a statement that the practices described by Akers were “of the past, and no longer exist at the Sun.”
Church was the last victim whose case was ready for trial after dozens of other celebrities and lawmakers settled. Actor Jude Law accepted 130,000 pounds to drop his claim last month and sports agent Sky Andrew, one of the first to sue, agreed earlier this month to settle for 75,000 pounds. The company has paid more than $15 million to settle such cases.
“I hope people don’t feel let down -- I know a lot of people wanted me to go to trial,” said Church, who turned her dining room into an “investigative headquarters” during the case. “We’ve put so much effort and energy and money into the case -- it has taken over my life.”
Judge Geoffrey Vos said he would set another deadline for new phone-hacking victims to come forward and that a trial could take place a year from now, if they don’t settle. News International is making “superhuman efforts” to settle the cases, he said.
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