News Corp.’s British publishing unit said it resolved seven civil lawsuits over the interception of celebrities’ voice-mail messages to get scoops for the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
The company, which has been sued at least 60 times, agreed to pay “appropriate sums” to compensate ex-lawmaker Mark Oaten, TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson and Calum Best, the son of a soccer star who appeared on reality-TV shows, the company said today in an e-mailed statement. Abi Titmuss, Michelle Milburn, Paul Dadge and James Hewitt also settled, it said.
News International, based in London, has “expressed regret for the distress caused,” spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop said in the statement.
The settlements come as New York-based News Corp. tries to contain the scandal that engulfed its U.K. publishing arm over the conduct of journalists and investigators at the News of the World, which was shut in July. Three police probes linked to the newspaper have resulted in about 20 arrests, including that of former editor Rebekah Brooks, who resigned as chief executive officer of the News Corp. unit.
The tabloid publisher is also close to settling a lawsuit by former England soccer player Paul Gascoigne, his lawyer told a judge at a court hearing today. Gascoigne’s lawsuit is among about six so-called test cases scheduled for a three-week trial starting Feb. 13, to set a standard amount of financial damages for celebrities, politicians, crime victims and hundreds of other potential phone-hacking targets that may sue.
Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for some phone-hacking victims, said at the hearing that News International was being too slow in turning over evidence, including an unknown number of deleted company e-mails that are being reconstructed. The communications may show who knew about the hacking and how high up the chain of command it went, he said.
News International will also find out tomorrow in two related court judgments whether it must pay the legal fees of former editor Andy Coulson and ex-private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who have both been arrested in the police probes. They both claim the company should pay court costs.
Gascoigne has also accused another of News Corp.’s British tabloids, the Sun, of paying two people to spy on him while he was at a clinic receiving treatment for alcohol addiction. He sued in June for breach of privacy and libel over Sun articles published in July 2010.
News International already settled some phone-hacking lawsuits, including a deal to pay 100,000 pounds ($156,700) to actress Sienna Miller and another 20,000 pounds to sports commentator Andy Gray. The biggest payment of 3 million pounds went to the family of murdered school girl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by the News of the World in 2002, while she was still missing.