Victims of phone hacking in the UK can sue the publisher of The Sun and the now-defunct News Of The World for alleged unlawful information gathering between 1996 and 2011, the High Court has ruled.
Dozens of claimants suing News Group Newspapers (NGN), including the Duke of Sussex and singer Lily Allen, say unlawful information gathering was “habitual and widespread” at the newspapers over more than a decade and was “well-known to and approved of” by senior employees, including former chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
It is also alleged that senior executives, editorial staff and journalists “took deliberate steps to lie about, conceal and destroy evidence of these habitual and widespread practices in order to avoid the true nature, scale and extent of such activities being revealed”, with documents which revealed unlawful activities at The Sun allegedly being “purged”.
The News Of The World folded in 2011 after details emerged of extensive phone hacking at the newspaper.
NGN has since settled a number of claims brought by “actors, musicians, sportsmen, politicians, victims of crime and members of the armed forces” but has never admitted any liability in relation to alleged phone hacking at The Sun.
Phone hacking: Sir Elton John and Elizabeth Hurley settle claims https://t.co/HNpU16q0ra
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In a ruling delivered remotely on Thursday, Mr Justice Mann extended the period for which claims could be brought against NGN for alleged unlawful information gathering, from 1998 to 2010 to 1996 to 2011.
The judge ruled that “there is evidence to back up this partial amendment”, adding: “There is some, and in the light of the covert nature of the activities it is not surprising that there is not a lot, at the moment.
“The mass destruction of emails (which is admitted, though its motivation is disputed) makes it less surprising that the claimants do not, at the moment, have a lot more evidence than that cited.”
At a preliminary hearing on Thursday, the claimants’ barrister David Sherborne said there were now 123 live claims against NGN, which have been filed ahead of a trial that is due to begin in October.
However, it is not clear whether that trial will actually go ahead as a number of similar claims have been settled by NGN shortly before a final hearing: claims brought by Sir Elton John, Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Mills were settled the weekend before trial last February.
The High Court is due to decide which claims will proceed to trial at a further hearing in September.