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News Corp. settles hacking claims with 36 victims

However, the much-maligned news organization finally admits guilt after years of denials

When all else fails, it’s time to open the wallet. News International, the British newspaper unit of News Corp., has begun settling the 60 lawsuits filed by victims of the widely publicized voicemail interceptions at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

News International agreed to a wide range of payments to victims at a hearing today in London, beating the first civil trial in the matter by about a month. The settlements range from £5,000 for less-serious hacking violations to about £100,000 in more-serious cases. Eighteen settlements were outlined today, totaling £642,000 plus legal fees.

Bloomberg reports that News International attorney Michael Silverleaf said at the hearing that the company “is ready, willing and able to settle” all the claims. Silverleaf added that a trial shouldn’t be necessary, and that the compensation is “generous.”

Some notable celebrities and politicians are among the cases settled and still awaiting trial, including Jude Law, Sienna Miller, Steve Coogan and Charlotte Church.

However, with news of the settlements comes some potentially even more damning information. For years, News International maintained that voicemail hacking to generate stories was a practice employed by one “rogue” reporter, who was jailed in 2007. Now, News Corp. admits that the phone hacking practice was more widespread, and was both known about and concealed by senior management.

Lawyers for the phone hacking victims issued a statement today noting that their agreements were based on News Group Newspapers (NGN), which published some of News International’s newspapers, admitting that senior management was responsible.

"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," the statement said.

For more on News Corp.’s admission of guilt, read Reuters.

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