The Sun says it didn’t hack phones – so why does its publisher keep paying out?

Analysis: News Group Newspapers has always preferred to settle claims against the Sun rather than defend itself in court

Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers this week agreed a substantial settlement with the actor Sienna Miller, ensuring that her claims of phone hacking at the Sun did not go to trial.

Why does the publisher of the Sun keep paying substantial sums of money to settle cases alleging illegality at the Sun?
It is now 15 years since Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers was first having to address the use of illegal voicemail interception by its journalists.

Initially, the company falsely claimed that phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter at the now-defunct News of the World. Since then, the company has paid hundreds of millions of pounds to settle hundreds of cases relating to the scandal. New claims are still being filed by individuals who claim their personal information was illegally targeted.

What is the legal position of the Sun?
It is accepted that phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World during the 2000s, but Murdoch’s company has always insisted that the Sun, edited by Rebekah Brooks during much of this period, was not involved in illegality. Brooks was personally found not guilty of phone hacking in a criminal trial in 2014.

Haven’t people claimed in court that phone hacking took place at the Sun?
Yes, allegations that phone hacking was rife at the Sun have been aired in pre-trial hearings, while individuals have received large financial settlements after alleging illegal behaviour at the daily newspaper. However, no judge has ever ruled on the veracity of these claims and they are strongly denied by Murdoch’s company.

How can claims of wrongdoing at the Sun be settled without accepting wrongdoing?
Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers owns two outlets: the still-publishing Sun and the now-defunct News of the World. When an individual makes allegations of phone hacking at the Sun, the legal claim is made against this parent company rather than a specific outlet. Any financial settlements with phone-hacking victims are usually accompanied by a statement, agreed by both sides, stating there is no acceptance that wrongdoing took place at the Sun.

Why haven’t any of these cases come to trial?
The main reason is money. Murdoch’s company has shown an incredible willingness to pay enormous sums of cash to settle cases that claim illegal activity took place at the Sun. This also avoids public trials where potentially uncomfortable allegations about executives such as Brooks, now the head of News UK, could be aired in court – and reported by the media.

News UK this week unsuccessfully attempted to block the media from covering part of a hearing, forcing the Guardian and the BBC to hire a lawyer to ensure proceedings could be reported.

But why do the phone hacking victims accept these financial settlements?
Once again, the main reason is money. Speaking outside court, Sienna Miller made clear she was unhappy with this state of affairs: “I wanted to go to trial. I wanted to expose the criminality that runs through the heart of this corporation.”

Despite being a successful actor, Miller said she could not afford the “countless millions of pounds to spend on the pursuit of justice” to have her day in court.

She is suggesting that Murdoch’s company – as it has done in hundreds of other cases – offered her more money than she could have expected to win at a trial.

As a result, even if Miller had insisted on a trial and then emerged victorious, the court system would be likely to punish her financially, because she could have settled at an earlier stage for more cash.

She would then face picking up much of the multimillion-pound legal bill for both sides, in effect as a charge for wasting the time and money of both the court and News Group Newspapers.

Who would be able to force a trial on claims of wrongdoing at the Sun?
Someone willing to risk losing millions of pounds on a legal case in the hope of proving a point. Prince Harry has a phone-hacking claim relating to the Sun working its way through the courts.

If there was no illegal behaviour at the Sun, why does Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers continue to pay substantial financial settlements to people claiming there was illegal behaviour at the Sun, rather than fight the accusations at a trial?
The answer to this question remains unclear.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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