After months of persistent and often angry denials, Rupert Murdoch's British media group has admitted attempts to cover up the News of the World phone hacking scandal in a move that is likely to further damage its reputation.
The admission came during court hearings on Thursday when the group confirmed paying millions of pounds in compensation to a string of high-profile hacking victims including actor Jude Law and his former wife, Sadie Frost.
In a statement, the News Group Newspapers (NGN), a subsidiary of News International, said it agreed to compensations being assessed on the basis that its executives deliberately concealed evidence of wrongdoing.
“News Group has agreed to compensation being assessed on the basis that senior employees and directors of NGN knew about the wrongdoing and sought to conceal it by deliberately deceiving investigators and destroying evidence,'' it said after lawyers for hacking victims claimed that the company had destroyed emails as part of a cover-up.
However, a spokesman for News International later claimed that the company had not admitted any wrongdoing. But for the purposes of the compensation payouts it had agreed that damages could be assessed “as if this was the case''.
After hearing the victims' lawyers, the judge presiding over the case commented that the News International had “shown a rather startling approach to emails''. He said the court had seen evidence which raised “compelling questions'' whether the company “concealed, told lies, actively tried to get off scot free''.
“I have been shown a number of emails...which show a rather startling approach to the email record of NGN,'' he said.
These included emails that showed that despite actor Sienna Miller's request to the company to retain all emails which might relate to hacking her phone, “a previously conceived plan to conceal evidence was put in train by NGN managers''.
The admission was seen to blow a hole in the company's claim until now that phone hacking had been confined to one “rogue'' reporter — NoW's royal correspondent Clive Goodman who was jailed in 2007 for hacking mobile phone messages of members of the royal family.