Rupert Murdoch's media empire apologised and agreed to cash payouts yesterday to 37 people -- including a movie star, a soccer player, a top British politician and the son of a serial killer -- who were harassed and phone-hacked by his tabloid press.
The four -- Jude Law, Ashley Cole, John Prescott and Chris Shipman -- were among three dozen victims who received financial damages from Murdoch for illegal eavesdropping and other intrusions, including email snooping.
Lawyers for the claimants said the settlements vindicated their accusation that senior Murdoch executives had long known about the scale of illegal phone hacking and had tried to cover it up. Financial details of 15 of the payouts, totalling more than £640,000 (€765,242) were made public yesterday.
The amounts ran into the tens of thousands -- although Law received £130,000 (€155,453) , plus legal costs, to settle claims against the now-closed 'News of the World' and its sister tabloid, the 'Sun'.
Mr Law was one of 60 people who have sued Mr Murdoch's News Group Newspapers, claiming their mobile phone voicemails were hacked. Others whose settlements were announced at London's High Court included former UK government ministers Chris Bryant and Tessa Jowell, Welsh rugby player Gavin Henson, Princess Diana's former lover James Hewitt, singer Dannii Minogue and Sara Payne, the mother of a murdered schoolgirl.
It was the largest group of settlements announced yet in the long-running hacking scandal, which has shaken Mr Murdoch's global empire, spurred the resignations of several of his top executives and reverberated through Britain's political, police and media elite.
Mr Law, the star of 'Sherlock Holmes' and 'The Talented Mr Ripley', said he was "truly appalled" at the scale of surveillance and privacy invasion that his case had exposed.
"No aspect of my private life was safe from intrusion by News Group Newspapers, including the lives of my children and the people who work for me," he said in a statement. "It was not just that my phone messages were listened to. News Group also paid people to watch me and my house for days at a time and to follow me and those close to me."
News Group Newspapers admitted that 16 articles about Mr Law published in the 'News of the World' between 2003 and 2006 had been obtained by phone hacking.
The company also admitted that articles in the 'Sun' had misused Law's private information -- although it didn't go as far as to admit hacking by that paper. Mr Law said Mr 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".
"I changed my phones, I had my house swept for bugs but still the information kept being published," Mr Law said.
The slew of settlements is 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 in a relentless search for scoops.
Mr Murdoch closed the 168-year-old paper in July amid a wave of public revulsion over its hacking of the voicemails of missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. More than a dozen ex-Murdoch employees have been arrested by police investigating phone hacking and bribery.
British politicians and police have also been ensnared in the scandal, which exposed the cozy relationship between senior officers, top lawmakers and Murdoch newspaper executives.
Mark Lewis, a lawyer for many victims of phone hacking, said in an email that the fight against Mr Murdoch's media empire wasn't over.
"Fewer than 1pc of the people who were hacked have settled their cases," he said. "There are many more cases in the pipeline. ... This is too early to celebrate, we're not even at the end of the beginning."
Ten further cases are due to go to court next month.