News Corp. (NWSA)’s U.K. publishing unit was ordered to search for a mobile phone belonging to a member of Parliament who sued the company over claims its Sun daily tabloid was involved in the theft of the device.
The company must turn over Labour Party lawmaker Siobhain McDonagh’s phone, as well as any private information taken from it, within 21 days, Judge Geoffrey Vos ruled today in a London court. If the device isn’t found, News Corp. must provide a detailed description of its search, he said.
McDonagh, whose phone went missing in 2010, sued the company on Sept. 6, about three months after police expanded probes into wrongdoing at the company to include stolen mobile phones, resulting in the arrest of at least one Sun reporter. The other probes, involving bribery of public officials and voicemail hacking, have led to more than 80 arrests and the closure of the News of the World tabloid last year.
The phone is believed to contain “highly sensitive information,” Vos said. It’s possible the people involved in the alleged theft have already “chucked it in a bin” or “never had it” to begin with, he said.
The search may be complicated because the people involved “are the subject of an active criminal investigation,” News Corp. (NWSA)’s lawyer, Guy Vassall-Adams, said at the hearing. “They may or may not know its whereabouts, and if they do, they may or may not wish to assist” the company.
Vos also issued an injunction barring the News Corp. unit, News International, from printing any private information that may have been obtained from McDonagh’s phone. He also barred other media outlets from publishing any names associated with the allegations.
“There may be more arrests” in relation to phone theft, Vos said today. “It’s very important that the names of any people involved in these proceedings, including journalists involved in the allegations, should be protected.”
London police have made several arrests in relation to the theft of mobile phones, including people not associated with any newspapers. The detentions are being carried out by officers in Operation Tuleta -- a probe into e-mail hacking by journalists.
Vos is also handling more than 160 civil lawsuits against the publisher over phone hacking at the News of the World, which News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed last year in response to the scandal. The company has already spent more than $315 million on settlements, legal costs, and costs from shutting the News of the World with the first group trial in the phone-hacking case scheduled to take place in June.
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