Sat, Feb 25, 2012 - Page 6 News List

News International settles first wave of hacking lawsuits

AP, LONDON

Rupert Murdoch’s News International has succeeded in settling a first wave of phone hacking lawsuits, but a report that the British newspaper company ordered the deletion of legally sensitive e-mails in 2009 shows that the scandal is not dying down anytime soon.

Murdoch’s company was hit by about 60-odd lawsuits following revelations that his News of the World tabloid routinely intercepted the voicemails of politicians, celebrities, pop stars and sports figures. One of the last hold-outs, former teen singing sensation Charlotte Church, announced her settlement on Thursday through lawyers at England’s High Court.

The settlements may have stopped potentially embarrassing disclosures from being aired in open court, but dozens more cases are in the pipeline and a report in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday showed that documents still had a way of leaking out into the public domain.

The Telegraph published secret court documents which alleged that in November 2009, News International had ordered the deletion of e-mails which “could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation in which an NI [News International] company is a defendant.”

Although the documents quote News International as warning that its e-mail deletion policy had to be in compliance “with legal and regulatory requirements,” the notion that it had tried to destroy evidence at a time when Murdoch’s son James was in charge could further undermine the 39-year-old’s credibility as the heir apparent to his father’s media empire.

News International declined to comment on the report.

That News International tried to hide evidence of phone hacking has already been established. Last month, victims’ lawyers said they had agreed to the settlements in return for an admission that managers at the News of the World’s publisher “knew about the wrongdoing and sought to conceal it by deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence.”

However, the Telegraph, which said it obtained the documents from a High Court judge, goes into new detail. The paper published a 19-page generic claim form drawn up by victims’ lawyers which, among other things, state that hundreds of thousands of e-mails were deleted “on nine separate occasions,” and that one executive instructed an employee to remove seven boxes of records relating to them from the company’s storage facility.

The paper went on to quote a News International e-mail sent in the wake of actress Sienna Miller’s lawsuit against News International in late 2010.

Miller’s claim demanded that documents related to her case be preserved, but the claim said that the e-mail — sent by an unnamed member of the company’s technical staff — said “there is a senior NI management requirement to delete this data as quickly as possible.”

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