- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2012

LONDON (AP) - Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper company has agreed to pay damages to 37 high-profile victims of tabloid phone-hacking, including actor Jude Law, soccer player Ashley Cole, a friend of Prince William’s and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

In the 15 settlements whose financial terms were made public Thursday, amounts generally ran into the tens of thousands of pounds (dollars) _ although Law received 130,000 pounds (about $200,000) to settle claims against the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid and its sister paper, The Sun.

Law was one of 60 people who have sued News Group Newspapers, claiming their mobile phone voicemails were hacked. Other cases whose settlement was announced at London’s High Court on Thursday included claims by former government ministers Chris Bryant and Tessa Jowell, rugby player Gavin Henson and Sara Payne, the mother of a murdered girl.

It was the biggest number of settlements yet in the long-running hacking scandal, which has shaken Murdoch’s global empire, spurred the resignations of several of his top executives and reverberated through Britain’s political, police and media elite.

News Group Newspapers admitted that 16 articles about Law published in the News of the World tabloid between 2003 and 2006 had been obtained by phone hacking, and that the actor had also been placed under “repeated and sustained physical surveillance.” The company also admitted that articles in The Sun tabloid misused Law’s private information _ although it didn’t go so far as to admit to phone hacking.

In a statement, Law said Murdoch’s tabloids had been “prepared to do anything to sell their newspapers and to make money, irrespective of the impact it had on people’s lives.”

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.

“I changed my phones, I had my house swept for bugs but still the information kept being published,” Law said, adding that the phone hacking had made him “distrustful of people close to me.”

“For me, this case was never about money. It was about standing up for myself and finding out what had happened. I owed it to my friends and family as well as myself to do this,” he said.

Law’s ex-wife, actress Sadie Frost, received 50,000 pounds (about $77,000) in damages plus legal costs for phone hacking and deceit by the News of the World. Bryant received 30,000 pounds (about $46,000) in damages plus costs, while Prescott _ a prominent member of the Labour Party _ accepted 40,000 pounds (about $62,000).

After each victim’s statement, News Group lawyer Michael Silverleaf stood to express the news company’s “sincere apologies” for the damage and distress that its illegal activity had caused.

Frost said the paper’s activity caused her and Law to suspect one another. Henson said he accused the family of his then-wife, singer Charlotte Church, of leaking stories to the press.

Other claimants included Guy Pelly, a friend of Prince William, who was awarded 40,000 pounds (about $62,000), and Tom Rowland, a journalist who wrote for one of Murdoch’s own newspapers, the Sunday Times. He received 25,000 pounds ($39,000) after News Group admitted hacking his phone.

In some cases the company admitted hacking into emails, as well as telephone voice mails. Christopher Shipman, son of serial killer Harold Shipman, had emails containing sensitive legal and medical information intercepted by the News of the World. He was awarded “substantial” undisclosed damages.

Many victims had earlier settled with the company, including actress Sienna Miller and the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, who were awarded 2 million pounds (about $3.1 million) in compensation.

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