News Corp’s UK papers settle phone-hacking claims with high-profile figures

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – News Corp’s British newspaper group on Tuesday settled a series of claims of phone-hacking brought by celebrities and other individuals, including a “Spice Girl” and a former minister who said he was targeted because he was a political opponent.

News Group Newspapers (NGN), the publisher of the Sun daily and the now defunct News of the World which former chief Rupert Murdoch closed over its involvement in hacking, had given public apologies and paid out “substantial damages” to the claimants, according to their lawyers.

Those involved included Melanie Chisholm, or “Sporty Spice” from the well-known girl band, actor Keith Allen, and Shane Lynch from the band “Boyzone”. As well as celebrities, the group included a victim of the 2005 London bombings.

Katie Major, from law firm Hamlins, said Chisholm, also known as Mel C, said the phone-hacking – illegally intercepting voicemail messages – had caused her considerable distress.

“As a result of the defendant’s articles, our client became paranoid and suspicious as to who was the source of the private information published in its newspapers,” Major said.

Phone-hacking first came to public attention in 2006, when the royal correspondent and a private investigator working for the News of the World were arrested and later convicted of accessing voicemails on the mobile phones of aides to the British monarchy.

Subsequent revelations five years later forced Murdoch to shut down the tabloid, led to its editor and others being jailed, a public inquiry into press standards, and tens of millions of pounds being paid in damages by NGN.

“As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago,” a spokesperson for NGN said.

Chris Huhne, a former energy minister, said he had been targeted by NGN to destroy his career because he had called for a police investigation into hacking.

“This settlement vindicates my long-standing claim that News Corporation directors and managers targeted me to get rid of a political opponent,” said Huhne, who said he had received a six-figure sum in damages and that police should reopen their inquiries.

NGN said it strongly denied that there was any corporate motive or direction to obtain information unlawfully. 

“Huhne was a senior politician and stories published were legitimate and in the public interest,” NGN’s spokesperson said.

Other allegations of unlawful behaviour by journalists at the Sun, including accusations from King Charles’ younger son Prince Harry, are due to go to trial in 2025.

NGN has always denied any wrongdoing at the Sun.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Mark Heinrich)