REPORTING FROM LONDON -- The media giant News Corp.'s British subsidiary agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to actor Jude Law and 17 other victims of phone hacking by its journalists as part of a settlement announced in a British court on Thursday.
The victims were mainly targeted by the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, which was closed last July by media mogul Rupert Murdoch's corporation in the wake of the scandal.
Among the claimants awarded compensation were Law and his former wife, actress Sadie Frost; ex-soccer player Paul Gascoigne; former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and James Hewitt, the ex-lover of the late Princess Diana.
The court presided over by senior judge Geoffrey Vos awarded Law, who was tracked by the newspaper's hackers even while in the United States, and his ex-wife $200,000 and $78,000, respectively.
Law had claimed that for several years until 2006 no aspect of his private life was safe from intrusion by News Corp. reporters. He later learned from police that he and his family were under constant surveillance as well as having their phones tapped.
Prescott, who will receive about $60,000, alleged in a written statement read to the court on Thursday that his emails were intercepted.
The 18 claimants, along with 19 others who previously settled, are a fraction of the total of some 800 phone-hacking allegations that have been investigated by police. More than a thousand cases are still being pursued, Scotland Yard said.
The hacking was mainly carried out by private investigators working for journalists in search of stories.
News Group Newspapers, the subsidiary, refused to comment on Thursday’s proceedings.
Last year the media group set up a compensation plan “as an alternative to litigation and in order to speed up the process by which the victims ... can be compensated,” the company said in a statement last November.
The phone-hacking scandal had been percolating for several years, but finally sparked a public furor in July when the Guardian revealed that the News of the World had tapped into the mobile phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler. The mounting revelations led to the resignations or firings of senior police officers, media executives and journalists, as well as to at least eighteen arrests for invasion of privacy and related crimes.
In 2007, News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman was sentenced and jailed for listening in on royal household phones, but at the time Murdoch's corporation insisted that the hacking practices went no further.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: British actor Jude Law, shown arriving at a film premier in London last Oct. 12, was among 19 victims of phone hacking to receive compensation from News Corp. on Thursday. Credit: Daniel Deme / European Pressphoto Agency