The News of the World (“NOTW”) has admitted being responsible for intercepting the voicemails of many individuals using the services of a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, prior to his arrest in 2006. 

On 8 April 2011 NOTW, its publishers NGN and its parent company News International publicly apologised for the actions of NOTW and announced that it would establish a voluntary compensation scheme as an alternative to litigation and in order to speed up the process by which the victims of these activities can be compensated. 

NGN appointed the former High Court Judge and arbitration expert Sir Charles Gray to act as an independent adjudicator to assess applications for compensation under the scheme. 

It was announced that the scheme would operate according to a new streamlined procedure aimed at reducing the costs and complexity of the court procedure and ensuring a speedy, fair and efficient means to ensure victims of voicemail interception are adequately compensated.

NGN said that this would enable individuals to

  • Obtain quicker and more efficient access to justice without the delays and complexity of the court process
  • Obtain an uplift of compensation of 10% on what they might expect to receive from the courts
  • Bear no risk in relation to costs
  • Be able to obtain confidentiality by request, without having to make a formal application for a court order.

NGN later decided (after it had been in operation for less than 18 months) that the scheme would close in relation to any applications received later than midnight on 8 April 2013.

The last statistics published concerning the scheme appeared on the News UK website on 15 March 2013.  This stated that as at that date 271 applicants had been accepted into the scheme, of which approximately 105 claims had already been settled. Most of the cases have now been settled. 

The announcement said that following closure of the scheme to new applicants, NGN would continue to be represented by Linklaters LLP in relation to claims arising out of mobile voicemail interception and any individuals who believe they have a potential claim should contact them in the first instance.

Awards

It was intended that adjudications and settlements would be published on the News UK website. In fact there was a section on the website headed “Published Adjudications and Settlements” but nothing was published.

There have been several confidential adjudications by Sir Charles Gray in the Scheme but no details have been published.

Given that none of the court cases to date have produced any judgments, there is still therefore no accepted guidance from the Courts or the Scheme as a tariff for the award of compensation.

Operation Weeting

More than 5,000 people may have been targeted by the phone hacking operations at the News of the World, according to Scotland Yard. 

In a briefing to reporters at the conclusion of the recent hacking trial, the Metropolitan Police said it had warned 3,500 individuals that their name and phone number were noted by the phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire or appeared in phone records or e-mails.

The Metropolitan Police Service said that it had been unable to identify or trace a further 2,000 potential victims, who do not know that they may have been targeted. 

The Met said that in all there were 5,500 “potential victims” of the paper’s hacking, for whom a name and an associated phone number were found in the evidence.  Of those, the Met said 1,000 individuals were “likely victims”, where there was additional evidence to suggest that hacking could have, or did, take place, such as PIN numbers, unique voicemail numbers called, recorded audio messages and “specific references to individuals in a hacking context”. 

Most of the evidence analysed by the Met’s ongoing inquiry into phone hacking, Operation Weeting, came from the force’s first botched investigation into the News of the World in 2006/7, (Operation Caryatid). It included 1,100 pages of notes and recordings of hacked messages made by Mulcaire, and phone billing data from Mulcaire, the NOTW’s editor Clive Goodman and the hub and private wire phones of News International’s headquarters in Wapping. In its briefing the Met said “the total number of victims of phone hacking from the news desk of the News of the World is in the region of 5,500, of which just over 1,000 are classed as likely victims. A combined total of approximately 3,500 victims are now aware that they feature in the material. This leaves about 200 that we have not been able to contact”. The Met added that “it is unlikely that these numbers will change in any significant way as all reasonable efforts to contact the victims have been completed”.

Operation Pinetree

At the phone hacking trial, a News of the World journalist, Dan Evans, admitted hacking individuals on behalf of the features department. The investigation Operation Pinetree is looking into the second suspected conspiracy to intercept telephone voicemails at the NOTW and a third inquiry Operation Golding is investigating a separate phone hacking conspiracy at Mirror Group Newspapers. Court actions have been commenced by a number of the victims and some claims have been settled.

The recent conviction of Andy Coulson and acquittal of Rebekah Brooks and others is by no means the end of the road for the investigations into criminality inside newspapers. The scale of the investigation remains enormous and it could take another two years, if not longer, for all the potential cases to come to a conclusion. 

Scotland Yard has run 11 linked operations since it re-launched its inquiry into hacking in 2011.  Detectives have arrested 210 people and interviewed others under caution. 

The Metropolitan Police confirmed in January 2014 that it holds a large amount of material relating to Operation Pinetree (including transcripts of interviews, statements and lists of individuals) which has been and continues to be reviewed and assessed in order to establish whether criminal offences have or may have occurred. As part of the process officers have identified approximately 1,600 individuals whom the MPS has said it intends to notify (and in most cases probably already have) that there are grounds to believe they were or may have been victims of unlawful activity.

At that stage the MPS were not able to provide an indication of the split between those individuals who form part of the Operation Pinetree or Golding inquiries because in the majority of instances the presence of a name within Mr  Evans’ contact list could apply to either, or potentially both inquiries.  The Police could not confirm therefore the number of individuals who would fall to be notified by Operations Pinetree or Golding.

At that stage officers had informed approximately 300 people falling within Operations Pinetree or Golding.  Many more have been informed since although notification was delayed due to the criminal trial which ended in June 2014.

The Investigations

  • Weeting: News of the World hacking
  • Elveden: Corrupt payments, various newspapers
  • Pinetree: Second News of the World hacking inquiry
  • Golding: Alleged Mirror Group newspapers hacking
  • Sacha: Alleged attempt to conceal evidence
  • Tuleta: Alleged computer hacking
  • Kalmyk, Sabinas, Carizo and Kervil: Other computer misuse inquiries • 
  • Caryatid: Original 2005 to 2006 hacking inquiry

Prior to the 2013/14 hacking trial, 5 people pleaded guilty. Glenn Mulcaire for a second time, reporters Dan Evans and Neville Thurlbeck and news editors Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup.  Andy Coulson was then found guilty.

In Operation Elveden there have been 14 convictions of public officials for taking or seeking payments – 7 of them Police officers. There are 59 people from Elveden still to face trial Trials are due to continue throughout the Autumn and well into the New Year.

Some 31 people are on Police bail waiting to find out whether they will be charged under Operation Elveden. A further 20 are waiting for decisions. 

Corporate Prosecution?

The Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service are believed to be looking into a possible corporate prosecution.  Senior executives have been or are being interviewed under caution.

News International/News UK

In June 2013 News International, a brand forever connected with the phone hacking scandal, announced it was changing its name to News UK. In a statement, News International said the change follows “the fundamental changes of governance and personnel that have taken place to address the problems of the recent past”.

The statement reiterated that News International had apologised to its victims and set up a compensation scheme; closed the News of the world and co-operated with all the relevant authorities.  New policies and procedures are said to be in place across the company, its main titles were all under new leadership and the executive team has been transformed.

It is surprising given the number of individuals who are still being informed that they may be victims of phone hacking or other illegal information gathering methods, that there is no longer any procedure in place for dealing with proper claims, without the claimant having to resort to court proceedings.

NGN does not seem to be dealing with claims in a timely manner and since closure of the scheme has forced individuals to incur the costs of a legal claim or rely on the goodwill of solicitors to undertake work on a conditional fee basis. This is rather unsatisfactory but there is no sign that it will change.