News of the World faces rush of phone hack claims

* Lawyer says compensation could total 40 million pounds

* Risk of corporate criminal prosecution

* News International hoping to draw line under affair

By Tim Castle

LONDON, April 9 (Reuters) – Rupert Murdoch’s UK news arm
faces a flood of fresh compensation claims and could be exposed
to criminal prosecution after admitting its role in a
long-running phone hacking scandal, lawyers said on Saturday.

News International, parent company of Britain’s top-selling
News of the World tabloid, said on Friday it would admit
liability and pay compensation in eight cases — although many
more believe they were targeted. [ID:nLDE7371L1]

The admission was an about-turn from the media group’s
previous denial that it knew journalists were hacking the phones
of the royal family, politicians, celebrities and sports stars,
blaming a handful of “rogue reporters” for the scandal.

Those who will receive an “unreserved apology” from the
group, part of Murdoch’s global media empire News Corp (NWSA.O: Quote, Profile, Research),
include actress Sienna Miller and politician Tessa Jowell.

“There will be a massive flood of people contacting lawyers,”
said lawyer Charlotte Harris of law firm Mishcon de Reya.

Harris, acting for five of the 24 individuals with active
court cases against the News of the World, told Reuters some of
her clients had already been contacted by News International and
were considering their options.

“People (whose phones) have been intercepted, people who
have had their privacy infringed, on case by case basis must be
given proper compensation,” Harris said.

Analysts said the media group’s move was an attempt to draw
a line under the affair and limit potential financial costs as
News Corp tries to push ahead with its planned $14 billion
purchase of British satellite pay-TV operator BSkyB (BSY.L: Quote, Profile, Research).

Settling all the cases could cost the group as much as 40
million pounds ($66 million), said media lawyer Rod Dadak, a
partner of law firm Lewis Silkin which represents a number of
potential phone hacking litigants.

News International has declined to comment on media reports
it has set aside half that amount, 20 million pounds, for
compensation payments.

“It’s a black hole. So 20 million pounds may be
substantially too little, it could be double that,” Dadak told
Reuters, noting that the media group has already made individual
settlements in the affair of up to a million pounds each.

Dadak said News International was now itself at risk of a
corporate criminal prosecution, including for potential offences
under Britain’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers act, which
covers illegal phone interception.

“This is Murdoch’s Watergate because the cat is out of the
bag. Two or three people have taken the rap but the
powers-that-be must have known or turned a blind eye to what was
going on. It couldn’t be more serious,” Dadak said.

Police have reopened an investigation into the hacking
scandal and earlier this week arrested two journalists, former
senior News of the World editor Ian Edmondson and a man
identified as the paper’s chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck.

Lawyer Mark Lewis of Taylor Hampton Solicitors, with four
active court cases against the tabloid, said the current
compensation claims were just the “tip of the iceberg.”

“Cases are coming forward all the time. My phone hasn’t
stopped ringing from both journalists and from potential
clients,” he told Reuters.

“Anyone who has been in the News of the World, or knows
someone who has been in the News of the World, ought to find out
whether their phone was listened in to, because they are likely
to have a claim,” Lewis said.

The scandal dates back to 2005/6, when the tabloid’s royal
reporter and a private detective were arrested and jailed for
snooping on the voicemail messages of royal aides.
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(Editing by Mike Nesbit)
($1=.6103 pounds)

News of the World faces rush of phone hack claims