Murdoch papers hid evidence of illegality, say UK phone-hacking victims
Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers in Britain deliberately concealed and destroyed evidence of unlawful activity at the Sun and News of the World to cover up the involvement of senior executives, alleged victims of phone hacking have claimed.
The allegations were made at a high court hearing on Wednesday in the latest stage of phone-hacking proceedings against the Sun and News of the World.
David Sherborne, the barrister representing phone-hacking victims, told the court that the alleged concealment and destruction led to the “purging of evidence of unlawful activity at the News of the World and the Sun, and the involvement or approval of senior executives in the unlawful activities and subsequent cover-up”.
He said News Group had made “substantial payments” to former employees and contractors convicted of criminal offences in exchange for confidentiality and not revealing the “scale of the illegality within NGN”, while also deleting emails in a targeted way.
Sherborne also accused senior News Group editors including Rebekah Brooks, Gordon Smart, Dominic Mohan and Victoria Newton of commissioning private investigators. Brooks is the chief executive of News UK and a previous editor of the Sun and News of the World, while Smart left his role as the Sun’s deputy editor last year, Mohan is a former editor of the Sun and Newton is the editor of the Sun on Sunday.
Sherborne made the claims as he pushed for News Group to release more emails and documents. News Group has not admitted to the allegations.
Last month News Group settled 17 new cases of phone hacking and illegally obtaining personal information, including Les Dennis, the footballer Jonathan Woodgate and the Coronation Street actors Samia Ghadie, Kym Marsh and Alan Halsall.
These cases were due to be part of a trial that would have aired allegations of phone hacking at the Sun – which News Group has always denied. The 17 cases were the first tranche of 91 new claims of phone hacking and illegally obtaining personal information against News Group.
Sherborne revealed in court that News Group had now settled more cases, with 58 remaining outstanding, including high-profile individuals such as Sir Elton John. A trial is earmarked for January for a collection of the outstanding cases.
News Group has not admitted to any unlawful behaviour at the Sun as part of the settlements, which are likely to be worth millions of pounds.
The hacking hearing took place as the UK Competition and Markets Authority starts a six-month investigation into 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover of Sky. Fox is controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan. The Murdoch family also controls News Corp, the parent company of News Group.
Last week, in a separate case, News Group apologised in court and agreed to pay damages to a former army intelligence officer whose computer and emails were hacked.
News Group admitted that a private investigations firm had hacked the computer of Ian Hurst and that its boss, Jonathan Rees, had then sent intercepted information to the newspaper publisher.
Lawyers for News Group said the company offered its “sincerest and unreserved apologies” to Hurst and his family and accepted “vicarious liability” for the hacking. News Group will pay “substantial” damages to Hurst and cover his legal costs.