LONDON Jan 18 News International, the
British arm of News Corp that includes the now-defunct
News of the World, is close to settling many of the high-profile
phone-hacking cases brought against it, lawyers for the victims
told Reuters on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for News International declined to comment
ahead of a pre-trial hearing which is due to take place on
Thursday morning in front of a judge who is set to begin hearing
test cases next month.
Many of the settlements are expected to be announced on
Thursday, subject to the approval of the judge, Geoffrey Vos.
Gerald Shamash, a lawyer who is representing five
high-profile victims including retired soccer star Paul
Gascoigne, said all of his claims were being settled, although
the deals would probably not be announced as early as Thursday.
"We are in the process of settling them," he told Reuters.
Shamash's other clients with claims against News
International are ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair's former spin
doctor Alastair Campbell, Phil Hughes, agent to late soccer star
George Best, former government minister Elliot Morley and Jimmy
Gardner, a friend of Gascoigne's.
News International launched a compensation scheme in
November for victims of phone-hacking, promising to pay 10
percent more than the amount considered appropriate by Charles
Gray, a former high court judge overseeing the scheme.
It is facing more than 60 claims but the number of possible
victims is almost 6,000, according to police.
One lawyer involved said only a handful of low-profile
claims were likely to remain after the settlements soon to be
announced, meaning public interest in the process would wane.
Much of the sting has been taken out of the civil cases by
the judge-led Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and standards,
which has already spent months poring over the conduct of all of
the British press in detail.