News International is seeking to draw a line under the phone-hacking scandal by offering an unreserved apology and damages to some of the many high-profile figures currently suing over claims voicemail messages were intercepted by its its journalists before 2007.
The News of the World is currently facing more than a dozen civil legal actions for breach of privacy over claims that messages left on mobile phones were intercepted. Costs and damages could run into the millions.
In a statement this afternoon News International said: “Following an extensive internal investigation and disclosures through civil legal cases, News International has decided to approach some civil litigants with an unreserved apology and an admission of liability in cases meeting specific criteria.
“We have also asked our lawyers to establish a compensation scheme with a view to dealing with justifiable claims fairly and efficiently. This will begin the process of bringing these cases to a fair resolution with damages appropriate to the extent of the intrusion.
“We will, however, continue to contest cases that we believe are without merit or where we are not responsible. That said, past behaviour at the News of the World in relation to voicemail interception is a matter of genuine regret. It is now apparent that our previous inquiries failed to uncover important evidence and we acknowledge our actions then were not sufficiently robust.
“We continue to co-operate fully with the Metropolitan Police. It was our discovery and voluntary disclosure of this evidence in January that led to the re-opening of the police investigation. With that investigation on going, we cannot comment further until its completion.
“News International’s commitment to our readers and pride in our award-winning journalism remains undiminished. We will continue to engage with and challenge those who attempt to restrict our industry’s freedom to undertake responsible investigative reporting in the public interest.”
The Commons culture committee had been told in 2009 that the News of the World had investigated allegations of phone-hacking and concluded that it was isolated to journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, both of whom were jailed in 2007.
Since then it has become clear, largely due to The Guardian’s long-running investigation, that the practice was more widespread at the paper. The News of the World’s statement of “regret” acknowledges that is own internal inquiry into phone-hacking was not sufficiently “robust”.
MPs accused News International executives of suffering from “collective amnesia” in 2009 after individuals including Les Hinton, Colin Myler, Andy Coulson and Stuart Kuttner were questioned by the Commons media committee about phone-hacking.