Rupert Murdoch's News International has succeeded in settling nearly all the cases in the first wave of phone hacking lawsuits brought against his British newspaper company, lawyers said Wednesday.
But a potentially damaging claim lodged by British singer Charlotte Church is still headed to trial, and a second wave of lawsuits — as many as 56 in all — is still looming, the lawyers told London's High Court.
News International, a division of News Corp., has tried hard to keep phone hacking cases from going to trial, launching its own compensation program overseen by a respected former judge and paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds (dollars) in out-of-court settlements.
But News International lawyer Michael Silverleaf said that Church's suit is "one of the more complicated cases, and one where the claimants have taken a particularly polarized view."
It may also be one of the more embarrassing cases for Murdoch's media empire. Church was only a teen when she came to prominence in the press and the angel-voiced singer has already testified to a litany of media abuse.
The former child singing sensation has told Britain's media ethics inquiry that she and her family had come under unbearable media scrutiny.
'This has never been about money.' —Steve Coogan, comedian
Pretrial arguments between her lawyer, David Sherborne, and Silverleaf focused on the toll that journalists' pursuit took on her mental health and her family's business.
Earlier, lawyers gave notice that nine more phone hacking lawsuits against News International had been settled, including cases brought by comedian Steve Coogan, former soccer star Paul Gascoigne and maverick lawmaker George Galloway. Some of the lawsuits had multiple claimants.
"This has never been about money," said Coogan, who received a settlement of 40,000 pounds ($63,500). "Like other people who have sued, I was determined to do my part to show the depths to which the press can sink in pursuit of private information."
The scandal over phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid boiled over after it emerged last summer that journalists at the paper had routinely hacked into the phones of celebrities, politicians, sports figures and even crime victims.
The now-defunct tabloid has already settled with several prominent figures, including actress Sienna Miller and the family of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was broken into by the paper soon after her disappearance in 2002.
Heather Mills, former wife of musician Paul McCartney, is expected to testify before the media ethics commission Thursday.
Former soccer star Gascoigne received 68,000 pounds ($108,000), while Simon Hughes, deputy leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, received 45,000 pounds ($71,500). He said in a statement that everyone who allowed a large company to behave illegally must be brought to account.
Lawmaker Galloway, known in the U.S. for his uncompromising opposition to the Iraq war, received 25,000 pounds ($39,700) and an admission from Silverleaf that his company had intercepted five of Galloway's voicemails around the time of the 2003 invasion.
Sally King, a friend of former British Home Secretary David Blunkett, received 60,000 pounds ($95,300), while her husband, Andrew, received 50,000 pounds ($79,400). Silverleaf acknowledged that a News of the World journalist followed the pair to the U.S. where they'd tried to find refuge from the press intrusion.
Her father and brother also received substantial damages, as did former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell and a series of other claimants, including investigative journalist Dennis Rice and Sheila Henry, whose son, Christian Small, died in the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London's transport system.
Sports agent Sky Andrew received 75,000 pounds.($47,570)
After each settlement, Silverleaf said that News International had accepted responsibility and regretted the damage it had caused. His company also agreed to pay the claimants' legal fees.