News of the World publisher News International has defended its phone-hacking compensation scheme after a lawyer representing victims of voicemail interception suggested it was ‘all smoke and mirrors”.
Steven Heffer, chair of Lawyers for Media Standards and head of media at law firm Collyer Bristow, said had been left frustrated by attempts to get details about the compensation fund.
In response News International said it was still finalising the practical details and hoped the scheme be ‘up and running as soon as possible.”
News Group Newspapers (NGN), a subsidiary of News International, announced that it was setting up a compensation scheme worth an estimated £15m in April, appointing for High Court judge Sir Charles Gray to oversee it.
Then chief executive Rebekah Brooks the company hoped the scheme ‘will be used as a fair and efficient alternative to obtaining compensation through court action and satisfy successful claimants that we sincerely regret any harm caused”.
At the time it was reported that NGN would assess how much a court would have paid in damages for each civil case and the final settlement figure will be reached by adding 10 per cent.
This was apparently designed to encourage victims to take part in the scheme rather than pursue legal action through the courts.
Heffer said: ‘So, have all victims transferred to the scheme and experienced the speedy resolution promised? Well, not exactly.
‘So far lawyers acting for victims have drawn a blank. There is no website, nor any published information about the terms of the scheme other than these press reports.”
Heffer went on to claim that NGN’s lawyers were unable to peovide any information after being repeatedly pressed but suggested details would be ready by the end of August.
‘August passed with no further details published, said Heffer. ‘It is now six months since the scheme was announced along with a public apology to a number of victims of phone-hacking.’
Responding to Heffer’s claims, a News International spokesperson said: ‘In April this year, NI announced its intention to establish a compensation scheme for victims of unlawful voicemail interception.
‘The scheme will be used as a fair and efficient alternative to obtaining compensation through court action.
‘In June, Sir Charles Gray, a former High Court judge, was appointed to oversee the scheme.
‘Since then, discussions with key interested parties have been ongoing, with the precise details of the scheme’s practical implementation the particular focus of talks held this month.
‘These discussions are nearing their conclusion and it is hoped the scheme will up and running as soon as possible.”