News Of The World publisher loses bid to end phone hacking litigation

The publisher of The News Of The World has lost a bid to end litigation over the phone-hacking scandal – 15 years after it began and following the settlement of more than 1,000 claims.

News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of the now defunct newspaper and The Sun, has asked Judge Fancourt to impose a final deadline for claims to be brought against it relating to the collection of alleged illegal information from newspapers.

The publisher has admitted wrongdoing regarding The News Of The World, but not The Sun, and has settled around 1,028 claims so far – plus 358 additional claims that have been filed with a compensation scheme run by the parent company News International between 2011 and 2016. .

NGN’s lawyers told a hearing in London this week that now was the time to end the lengthy litigation.

Clive Goodman, former News of the World reporter (Yui Mok/PA)

(PA Archive)

However, attorneys representing a number of plaintiffs and potential plaintiffs said there could be as many as “20,000 to 25,000 potential victims of NGN’s illegal information gathering” and argued that there should not have a deadline for new claims.

Anthony Hudson QC, for NGN, told the court on Thursday: “We say that after 15 years of litigation, the resolution and settlement of over 1,000 claims, the enormous use of court time during this period, large amounts of disclosure (of evidence) and the enormous costs that have been incurred and paid, we suggest that now is the time to ensure that any intended claims are brought within a reasonable time and that the slow feed of evidence – which, depending on the plaintiffs’ approach, could last many more years, possibly another decade – is brought to a conclusion.

He said: “To NGN’s knowledge, no other comparable litigation in the English courts has taken as long as (this).”

Mr Hudson said the litigation had “transformed over the years” from voicemail interception to other forms of illegal information gathering.

He said the allegations had been in the public domain since the arrest of former News Of The World reporter Clive Goodman in 2006, and that it would be “difficult for anyone living in this country to ignore” the telephone hacking scandal and its consequences.

He added: “It’s been going on forever and everyone knows it, and if you don’t know it now, there’s really no reasonable explanation for it.”

Mr Hudson told the court that actor Hugh Grant recently filed a complaint over alleged illegal activity at The Sun, after he struck a deal with NGN over The News Of The World in 2017.

He said: “Hugh Grant just filed a claim. He filed a claim in 2012 and there’s no reason we can see why he couldn’t have done it five years ago.

Hugh Grant (Isabel Infantes/AP)

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The attorney later added, “It’s taken him all these years to bring this new claim about The Sun.”

The lawyer said there had been around 45 hearings since 2016, occupying around 70 hours of hearing time, and that the legal costs had been “exorbitant”, with the total cost of the third installment of the litigation reaching up to almost £35m alone.

He revealed actress Sienna Miller’s claim was settled in December last year, resulting in costs of more than £1.5million – which the publisher paid as part of the settlement, as well as undisclosed damages.

David Sherborne, representing the plaintiff class, said NGN’s request for a final deadline was “ill-conceived” and argued that “the vast majority of victims are unaware they have a claim due to the nature intentionally covert of NGN’s illegal information gathering and willful concealment of the same”.

Sienna Miller (Victoria Jones/PA)

(PA wire)

Delivering judgment on Friday, Judge Fancourt said he disagreed with NGN’s assertion that the majority of those who may have a claim are already aware of the potential claim.

The judge said: ‘Other claims are now being filed which do not arise from an article being published.

“Even when the claimants did publish an article about them, it is not clear that this is how the information was gathered.”

He added that new plaintiffs also learn about potential claims by appearing as witnesses in other plaintiffs’ cases.

The judge said the court’s position on the matter may well change in the future.

The court heard there are currently 52 claims on file, with a further 436 claims at the pre-action letter stage and a further 82 claims “in the pipeline”.