Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper company has agreed to pay damages to 36 high-profile phone-hacking targets, including actor Jude Law, English footballer Ashley Cole and several senior politicians.
The settlements announced on Thursday amounted to more than half of existing legal complaints against the News of the World, the Sunday newspaper shut down last year over phone-hacking revelations, and the Sun, its sister newspaper.
But the number of people believed to have had their voicemail messages listened to is estimated in the hundreds, and a lawyer for the victims said the fight against Murdoch was not over.
"While congratulations are due to those (lawyers) and clients who have settled their cases, it is important that we don't get carried away into thinking that the war is over," Mark Lewis said an email.
"Fewer than one per cent of the people who were hacked have settled their cases. There are many more cases in the pipeline. This is too early to celebrate, we're not even at the end of the beginning."
Of 15 settlements made public, most ranged from 30,000 to 60,000 pounds ($46,000-$93,000), although Law received about $200,000 after News Group newspapers admitted that 16 articles published by the News of the World had been obtained by phone hacking.
Paul Connew, a former deputy editor of News of the World, said that if each person who's information was illegally accessed by the newspaper sued, the final bill for the Murdoch empire could be as high as "twenty-to-thirty million [pounds] sterling... and that wouldn't be far-fetched".
"Perhaps worst for News Corp is the fact that Jude Law's phone was also hacked while he was in America, which opens the door to potential criminal prosecutions, very serious ones, in the US," Connew said.
New Group also said the actor had also been placed under "repeated and sustained physical surveillance", and that articles in the Sun misused Law's private information, although it gave no further details.
Law's lawyer said on Thursday the acts had caused him "considerable distress ... distrust and suspicion", and as a result he had his "house swept for bugs, but still the information kept being published".
Law's ex-wife and actress Sadie Frost received about $77,000 in damages plus legal costs for phone hacking and deceit in the settlement.
Other cases settled at London's High Court included those of former deputy prime minister John Prescott, former government ministers Chris Bryant and Tessa Jowell, ex-model Abi Titmuss and Sara Payne, the mother of a murdered schoolgirl.
Bryant received about $46,000 in damages plus costs, while Prescott accepted about $62,000.
After each statement, News Group lawyer Michael Silverleaf stood to express the news company's "sincere apologies" for the damage and distress its illegal activity had caused.
The claimants described feeling mistrust, fear and paranoia as phone messages went missing, journalists knew their movements in advance or private information appeared in the media.
In some cases the company admitted hacking into emails in addition to voicemails.
Christopher Shipman, son of serial killer Harold Shipman, had emails containing sensitive legal and medical information intercepted by the News of the Word. He was awarded "substantial" undisclosed damages.
Media ethics inquiry
The slew of settlements is only one consequence of the revelations of phone-hacking and other illegal tactics at the News of the World, where journalists routinely intercepted voicemails of those in the public eye.
British politicians and police have also been ensnared in the scandal, which exposed cozy relationships between senior officers, public officials, and newspaper executives at Murdoch's media empire.
A government-commissioned inquiry set up in the wake of the scandal is currently investigating the ethics of Britain's media and the nature of its links to police and politicians.
Many victims had earlier settled with the company, including actress Sienna Miller and the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, who were awarded about $3.1m.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|