LONDON - Rupert Murdoch's News International has succeeded in settling nearly all the cases in the first wave of lawsuits against it for phone hacking, with a new round of apologies and payouts announced in a London court Wednesday.
But a potentially damaging claim lodged by British singer Charlotte Church is still headed to trial, and a second wave of new lawsuits — as many as 56 in all — is still looming, 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.
On Wednesday, lawyers announced that nine more lawsuits had been settled, including cases brought by comedian Steve Coogan, former soccer star Paul Gascoigne and maverick lawmaker George Galloway. Some of the suits 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."
After each settlement, News International lawyer Michael Silverleaf said the company had accepted responsibility and regretted the damage it had caused. His company also agreed to pay the claimants' legal fees.
The lawsuits stem from revelations of phone-hacking and other illegal tactics at the now-defunct News of the World, where journalists routinely intercepted voicemails of those in the public eye in a relentless search for scoops.
Murdoch closed the 168-year-old paper in July amid a wave of public revulsion over its hacking in 2002 of the voicemails of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered.
Gascoigne received 68,000 pounds ($108,000), while Simon Hughes, deputy leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, received 45,000 pounds ($71,500). Hughes 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 press intrusion.
Her father and brother also received substantial damages, as did former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell and 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 also received 75,000 pounds.
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.
Pretrial arguments between her lawyer, David Sherborne, and Silverleaf focused Wednesday on the toll that journalists' pursuit took on her mental health and her family's business.
A lawyer for private investigator Glenn Mulcaire asked for reporting restrictions to be imposed on the trial, arguing that the Church case might otherwise be prejudicial to his client, who has been arrested and could face criminal charges.
Mulcaire, one of the central figures in the phone hacking case, is also being sued by Church and her family.
Judge Geoffrey Vos said that he was "extremely hostile" to imposing blanket reporting restrictions on the Church case, saying there is a public interest in letting the facts be known. He said he might consider an "appropriate, limited order" in the case at a later hearing.
News International has already settled with several prominent figures, including actress Sienna Miller and the family of Dowler, whose phone was broken into by the paper soon after her disappearance in 2002.
The scandal ripples on, with more than a dozen ex-Murdoch employees so far arrested by police investigating phone hacking and bribery.
British politicians and police also have been ensnared in the scandal, which exposed the cozy relationship between senior officers, top lawmakers and Murdoch newspaper executives.
A government-commissioned inquiry is currently investigating the ethics of Britain's media and its links to police and politicians. Heather Mills, former wife of musician Paul McCartney, is expected to testify before the inquiry Thursday.