News of the World: four phone hacking test cases approved

Sienna Miller Actress Sienna Miller is one of several celebrities accusing the News of the World of breach of privacy

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Four test cases for alleged victims of phone hacking by the News of the World should go ahead later in the year, a High Court judge has said.

Mr Justice Vos said they could include actress Sienna Miller, who has already been offered a £100,000 settlement.

The cases could create framework for action from some 91 alleged victims.

It comes as Scotland Yard confirmed they were considering a criminal investigation into claims journalists paid police officers for information.

The judge said the four test cases would possibly also concern interior designer Kelly Hoppen and sports agent Sky Andrew, because the investigations were well-advanced and covered a range of issues and levels of damage.

The main issues were whether there was interception, how much of it went on, what was done with the information and the degree of damage suffered, Mr Justice Vos said.

Analysis

It's eight years since Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) told MPs that journalists "had paid police for information in the past" - and the remark has come back to haunt her.

The confirmation that police are considering a criminal investigation - on top of the arrest of a third News of a World journalist - shows just how seriously the Yard is taking its latest enquiries.

In 2003, the Guardian headlined Wade's admission, saying it was "the first time the editor of a tabloid newspaper has publicly admitted using such techniques".

When Chris Bryant MP suggested it was illegal for police to be paid for information, Andy Coulson, her successor as editor of the News of the World, told him: "We have always operated within the code and within the law".

Last week, News International admitted breaking the law over phone-hacking. It now faces questions over whether it also paid the police.

Outlining the advantages of holding test cases, he said the 20 cases going through the courts were generating thousands of documents.

"My experience of thousands of documents is that there is just half a dozen that actually matter."

He added: "Otherwise we will be going on forever. Some people may want to but I don't," he said.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, who represents a number of claimants including Miss Miller, told the judge the case was not just about money.

"Damages are an aspect, but when private information is involved, the kind of relief people are looking for goes beyond simply monetary compensation," he said.

The court also heard that actor Jude Law was expected to issue legal proceedings shortly.

Lawyers are still working out the extent of the phone hacking relating to Miss Miller, who has twice been in a relationship with Mr Law, first from 2003-2005.

Mr Justice Vos said Miss Miller appeared in many articles in the News of the World from 2005-6 and it was a possibility they arose from phone hacking.

But News Group's QC, Michael Silverleaf, said it would be an abuse of process for her to continue to pursue the case as she "cannot realistically recover more than we are offering".

He said: "The civil litigation process does not exist for people to vent their feelings in public.

"It provides a remedy for wrongs. We have admitted the wrong and agreed to pay her the maximum sum."

Meanwhile, lawyers for Ms Hoppen allege the phone hacking continued into 2009.

It is known there are 91 alleged victims of phone hacking but it is rumoured there may be as many as 5,000.

The Metropolitan Police told the court it was currently indexing 9,200 pages of notebooks belonging to private detective Glenn Mulcaire who was jailed over phone tapping in 2007.

Compensation

News International recently apologised for "voicemail interception" between 2004 and 2006 and announced it was setting up a compensation fund to deal with "justifiable claims fairly and efficiently".

The BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman said more might emerge about which victims will accept compensation under the scheme, who will fight on, and how many more are bringing civil claims.

The BBC understands News International was ready to settle claims with eight people, including former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, her estranged husband, lawyer David Mills, Ms Hoppen, Mr Gray, and Joan Hammell, a former aide to ex-deputy prime minister Lord Prescott.

On Thursday, senior reporter James Weatherup became the third journalist from the newspaper to be questioned. He was released on bail until September.

The potential new police investigation comes after former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade) told a Commons committee in 2003 that journalists "had paid police for information in the past".

But last week Mrs Brooks denied she had any "knowledge of any specific cases".

In a letter to Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the home affairs committee, Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick said police planned "to conduct a scoping exercise to establish whether there are now any grounds for beginning a criminal investigation", following the 2003 comments.

News International said it was not currently commenting on the matter.

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