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Rupert Murdoch firm pays Jude Law, $200,000 in tabloid scandal

/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper company on Thursday agreed to pay actor Jude Law 130,000 pounds (about $200,000) to settle claims against the News of the World and The Sun tabloids.

Law's settlement was among three dozen announced Thursday in payouts totaling about $1 million.

News Group Newspapers (NGN) accepted that 16 articles about Law published in the now-defunct News of the World tabloid between 2003 and 2006 had been obtained by phone hacking, and that the actor had also been placed under "repeated and sustained physical surveillance."

The company also admitted that articles in The Sun tabloid misused Law's private information but did not give further details.

The agreement with the actor was among 36 cases the company said Thursday it would be settling, including soccer player Ashley Cole and former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Chris Shipman, son of a serial killer Harold Shipman.

They are among dozens of people who were suing News Group Newspapers after their mobile phone voicemails were allegedly hacked by the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid. Other cases settled include those of former government ministers Chris Bryant, Tessa Jowell, ex-model Abi Titmuss and Sara Payne, who is the mother of a murdered girl, rugby player Gavin Henson, Princess Diana's former lover James Hewitt and singer Dannii Minogue.

Actress Sienna Miller had reached an earlier settlement with the company.

News International, the parent company of Murdoch's News Group Newspapers, said it did not admit that senior staff knew of the wrongdoing and tried to cover it up — but it said that "for the purpose of reaching these settlements only, News Group Newspapers agreed that the damages to be paid to claimants should be assessed as if this was the case."

Financial details of 15 of the payouts, totaling more than 640,000 pounds (about $1 million), were made public at a court hearing Thursday. The amounts generally ran into the tens of thousands of pounds — although Law received 130,000 pounds (about $200,000), plus legal costs, to settle claims.

In a statement that could further damage the company's reputation, lawyers for victims who have reached settlements said the agreements were based on News Group Newspapers acknowledging senior executives tried to hide evidence.

"News Group has agreed to compensation being assessed on the basis that senior employees and directors of NGN knew about the wrongdoing and sought to conceal it by deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence," the statement said.

In all, Murdoch's company was facing 60 hacking lawsuits. The settlements were made public at a court hearing in London on Thursday.

Mark Lewis, a lawyer for many of the phone hacking victims, said in an email that the fight against Murdoch's empire was not over.

"While congratulations are due to those (lawyers) and clients who have settled their cases, it is important that we don't get carried away into thinking that the war is over," Lewis said. "Fewer than 1 percent of the people who were hacked have settled their cases. There are many more cases in the pipeline. ... This is too early to celebrate, we're not even at the end of the beginning."

News International set up a compensation scheme in November to deal with phone-hacking claims, moving to contain the consequences of a scandal that has rocked the company, the British press, police and the political establishment.

It has already received more than 60 claims and police say there are almost 6,000 potential victims.

Lawyers for the victims said they had obtained documents from News International that revealed its attempts to destroy evidence, partly thanks to the fact that the 12 solicitors' firms involved had joined forces to work together.

"As a result, documents relating to the nature and scale of the conspiracy, a cover up and the destruction of evidence/email archives by News Group have now been disclosed to the claimants," their statement said.

FILE - This is an undated Surrey Police handout photo of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. Rupert Murdoch's company said Monday Sept. 19, 2011 that it is in advanced compensation talks with the family of a murdered teenager whose phone was hacked by the now-defunct News of the World tabloid. News International, Murdoch's British newspaper division, said it hoped to reach agreement soon with the family of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose voicemail messages were accessed by scoop-seeking journalists after she disappeared in 2002. She was later found murdered. (AP Photo/Surrey Police/PA, File)Surrey Police via AP

"In the face of this overwhelming evidence, the 'rogue reporter' position has disintegrated and the range, scale and extent of phone-hacking has become clear."

News International had for years claimed that any hacking was the work of a single, "rogue" reporter, who was jailed for the offence in 2007. Last year, it admitted the problem was more widespread and paid compensation to several victims.

In July, after it emerged that the voicemail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, later found dead, had been hacked by the News of the World, News Corp took the drastic step of shutting down the 168-year-old tabloid.

The scandal forced the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman, a former News of the World editor. British police were accused of failing to properly investigate the affair and top police officials resigned.

Criminal probes are now under way into the phone hacking and allegations of payoffs to police. Cameron launched a judge-led inquiry into Britain's press ethics. News Corp was forced to scrap plans to take full control of Britain's highly profitable satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Hearings in the first cases of victims who have not settled are set to begin on February 13.