The Guardian said News Group Newspapers had paid more than one million pounds out of court to suppress legal cases that would have revealed evidence about the scale of phone tapping.
News Group publishes the News of the World, which sells 2.9 million copies every Sunday, as well as The Sun, the country's best-selling daily tabloid. Both newspapers are rich in celebrity and sports news.
The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence that Murdoch journalists used private investigators to illegally hack into the mobile phone messages of public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.
Among those allegedly targeted were actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, singer George Michael, ex-England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and former deputy prime minister John Prescott. Models Elle Macpherson and Lisa Snowdon, London Mayor Boris Johnson, the late reality television star Jade Goody and chef Nigella Lawson were also targeted, The Guardian said.
In one of the three cases it settled, News Group reportedly paid out 700,000 pounds in damages and legal costs to Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers' Association.
The News of the World's royalty editor, Clive Goodman, was ordered jailed for four months in 2007 for hacking into royal officials' voicemail systems. He said he had acted without the knowledge of other journalists or editors. But The Guardian said that during the investigation into Goodman, evidence emerged that the News of the World had used private investigators to hack into the phones of as many as 3,000 public figures.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has ordered a senior officer to "establish the facts" of the case. Sir Paul said Assistant Commissioner John Yates would "look into that detail and I would anticipate making a statement later today perhaps."
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