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News Corp. Sued Over Phone Hacking by Former Union Chief

News Corp. was sued by a former union leader over claims tabloids hacked into his phone messages, adding to the company’s legal troubles as it seeks to avoid the first civil trial over the scandal.

Andy Gilchrist, the U.K. general secretary for the Fire Brigades Union from 2000 to 2005, sued Feb. 10 in London over “incidents” during that period, his lawyer Tom Jones, of Thompsons Solicitors, said today in a phone interview.

The phone-hacking litigation has focused on the defunct News of the World tabloid. Jones declined to say which title is involved in the Gilchrist case. Gilchrist told the Independent newspaper last year that police were investigating whether News Corp.’s daily Sun newspaper hacked his phone during a union pay dispute.

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who shuttered the News of the World in July to help contain public anger over the scandal, flew to London this month to tell Sun staff he’s committed to the paper after 10 of its journalists were arrested in a probe of reporters’ bribing public officials.

News Corp.’s U.K. unit, News International, is preparing to start its first Sunday edition of the Sun to replace the News of the World.

News International’s spokeswoman, Daisy Dunlop, said the company isn’t aware of the lawsuit’s being filed. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police, who couldn’t be identified in line with office policy, declined to comment on the hacking accusation.

Bad Time

“This allegation comes at a bad time for Rupert Murdoch, given the impending launch of the Sun on Sunday,” said Niri Shan, who leads the media practice at Taylor Wessing LLP in London. If the Sun is named in the Gilchrist suit, it probably won’t deter Murdoch, he said.

Gilchrist led the union during a strike over pay, during which armed forces covered for firefighters for 15 days from November 2002 to February 2003 -- the first national strike by firefighters in 25 years. The News of the World and the Sun both published stories about Gilchrist’s personal life, including a marital affair.

The only confirmed phone-hacking claim against the Sun was made by the actor Jude Law, who focused most of his lawsuit on the News of the World. That case was settled last month for 130,000 pounds ($204,000).

A Welsh singer, Charlotte Church, agreed to settle her suit days before it was scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 27 in London, her spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

News International has paid more than $15 million to settle other cases, and the police have identified more than 800 likely victims.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.

The case is Gilchrist v. News Group Newspapers, HC12C00562, High Court of Justice, Chancery Division (London).

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