News Corp to avoid trial after one hacking case settled

LONDON Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:29am EST

LONDON Feb 23 (Reuters) - The British newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire will be spared a potentially embarrassing trial next week after singer Charlotte Church agreed to a settlement over her claim against the company over the phone-hacking scandal.

Earlier this month, News Group Newspapers, publisher of some of News Corp's British titles, had agreed deals with other claimants ahead of a civil trial at London's High Court which was due to begin on Monday, but failed to strike a settlement with Church.

However a hearing at the court on Thursday to discuss reporting restrictions at the trial was told Church, 25, had now also agreed to settle her claim, the Press Association reported.

Her settlement means that News International will be spared potentially damaging details of phone hacking being aired at a public trial the day after it launches a Sunday edition of its Sun daily tabloid to replace News of the World.

However, the settlement is far from the end of the legal process and other cases are in the pipeline involving well-known figures which also might need to be dealt with at a trial.

One of those persuing legal action is the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Murdoch's UK arm News International had claimed for years that the hacking of voicemails to generate stories at the News of the World tabloid was the work of a single "rogue" reporter who went to jail for the crime in 2007.

However, faced with a wave of evidence last year it finally admitted that the problem was widespread, sparking a scandal that has rocked the company, the British press, police and the political establishment.

It also forced Murdoch to close the 168-year-old paper, while three criminal investigations are ongoing.

Large numbers of politicians, celebrities and sports stars along with families of those involved in high-profile crimes have since launched legal action.

Deals in 15 cases were agreed earlier this month while a further 37 claims were settled in January, with pay outs ranging from about 40,000 pounds to 130,000 pounds.

There was no detail of how much NGN had agreed to pay Church, although media reports have suggested it could be one of the largest agreed so far. The High Court had been due to consider the Welsh singer's claim that 33 articles in the now defunct News of the World were the product of phone hacking.

At a public inquiry into media ethics last November, Church, who rose to global fame as a child opera sensation, said revelations about her father's affair in the News of the World had partly led to her mother's attempted suicide.

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