- Associated Press - Thursday, October 6, 2011

LONDON (AP) - More than 60 people have filed court papers alleging their phones were hacked by the News of the World, a lawyer said Thursday, amid preparations for a group lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct tabloid.

The claimants include movie stars, politicians and parents of two child victims of horrific violent crimes.

Lawyer Tamsin Allen, who represents some of the plaintiffs, said 63 claims have been filed against the newspaper’s publisher.

A test case by a handful of lead claimants _ including Hollywood star Jude Law, former soccer star Paul Gascoigne and Sheila Henry, whose son died in the 2005 London transit bombings _ will begin at the High Court in January.

The lead claimants have been chosen to represent the types of people allegedly targeted by the tabloid’s scoop-hungry journalists _ politicians, athletes, celebrities and ordinary citizens thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight.

The test case will decide whether hacking took place and whether victims should receive compensation, laying out a framework for how scores of other lawsuits will be settled.

The 63 claimants include Shaun Russell, whose daughter Josie survived a 1996 hammer attack in which her mother and sister were killed, and Sara Payne, whose 8-year-old daughter was murdered by a pedophile in 2000.

The Guardian newspaper, which has led coverage of the scandal in Britain, said other plaintiffs include Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell; pop star Dannii Minogue; Tony Blair’s former communications chief, Alastair Campbell; and Paul Dadge, who was photographed helping to rescue a badly burned woman from the 2005 transit bombings.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World in July after evidence emerged that its reporters had eavesdropped on the telephone voice mail messages of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who disappeared in 2002 and was later found murdered.

The revelation _ and mounting evidence that phone hacking was routine at the newspaper _ shook Murdoch’s media empire, and sent tremors through Britain’s political, police and media establishments. It forced the resignation of two of London’s top police officers, ousted executives at Murdoch’s News Corp. and claimed the job of Prime Minister David Cameron’s former spin doctor, Andy Coulson. An ex-News of the World editor, Coulson resigned form Downing St. in January and was later arrested and questioned about hacking.

News Corp. has expressed contrition, launched an internal inquiry and set aside 20 million pounds ($32 million) to compensate victims, who could number in their hundreds. Detectives have informed more than 450 people that they might have been spied on by the newspaper.

News International, Murdoch’s British newspaper division, said in a statement that it was “committed to reaching fair and where possible swift settlements with victims of illegal voicemail interception and has unreservedly apologized to those affected.”

Also Thursday, a former News of the World Editor told a judge-led inquiry into the scandal that 99 percent of journalists behaved professionally.

Phil Hall, who edited the News of the World between 1995 and 2000, denied suggestions phone hacking was the result of pressure to get scoops in an intensely competitive industry.

“Those who suggest and imply that phone hacking has arisen because of the pressures to deliver big stories are in my view wrong,” he told a seminar on media ethics being held as part of justice Brian Leveson’s inquiry.

“It has happened because a group of people have indulged in illegal activity and the checks and balances that should have been in place in any newsroom, or any business for that matter, have failed.”

The Leveson inquiry is examining media ethics and could suggest a new regulatory regime for the press.

Dozens of prominent people are lined up to give evidence about alleged media intrusion into their private lives, including actor Hugh Grant, Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, actress Sienna Miller and Formula One boss Max Mosley.

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Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless