Byline Investigates: The Sun - Murdochs Frustrate New Hacking Trial With 11th Hour Compo Deals
A TRIAL alleging phone hacking took place at The Sun and that both James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks were guilty of criminality has been aborted after dramatic last-minute pay outs to four test claimants.
Mr Murdoch, son of the paper's proprietor Rupert Murdoch, was Chief Executive of its parent company News Group Newspapers (NGN) when journalists at the tabloid were allegedly hacking phones under Mrs Brooks' editorship.
But the six-week trial was halted today less than 24 hours before it was due to begin - with NGN agreeing to pay undisclosed six-figure compensation packages and more than £2m in costs to the four, who said their phones had been hacked.
It prevented a public airing of claims The Sun for years operated a sophisticated culture of illegal news-gathering - including allegations of phone hacking and the industrial-scale ‘blagging’ - obtaining by deception - of the private medical records, phone bills, and social services data, of hundreds of members of the public.
"We allege criminality at the most senior people including James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks and senior editors" ~ claimants' barrister David Sherborne
NGN and its employees all deny any wrongdoing.
At the High Court in London, presiding Judge Mr Justice Mann criticised as "unsatisfactory" NGN's conduct in settling the claims hours before a civil trial that had taken more than two years to arrive at court.
The claimants include the Spice Girls former manager Chris Herbert, former X-Factor presenter Kate Thornton, Coronation Street actor Jimmi Harkishin, and the comedian Vic Reeves.
The costs of settling the fours test cases in legal fees alone has run into millions of pounds, excluding damages.
One legal document prepared by David Sherborne, barrister for some 47 claimants presently suing The Sun, was more than 200 pages long because it contained so many allegations of wrongdoing.
He said the reason for the lengthy "skeleton argument" document was because it reflected findings from Operations Weeting and Pinetree, two police probes into activities at The Sun's now defunct sister title, The News of the World.
Mr Sherborne said NGN had engaged in blanket non-admissions of the claimants' 'generic' case, that involved allegations of a senior-level cover-up at NGN.
Mr Sherborne said: "We allege criminality at the most senior people including James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks and senior editors."
He said that journalists had lied when they said in statements to the court that they didn’t know about phone hacking and blagging.
The court heard that 77,000 phone bills had been searched by NGN.
There are 47 claimants in the current phase of litigation, and around 100 claimants in total.
Mr Sherborne estimated that the costs are £450,000 to £500,000 per case, excluding other legal costs.
News Group Newspapers has not admitted any liability for phone hacking.
Rebekah Brooks was cleared of phone hacking charges at the Old Bailey in 2014.
More to follow