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April 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

(Updated) In an extraordinary about-face, Rupert Murdoch’s News International — the umbrella group for his British news operations — has admitted that reporters for its Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, hacked into the voicemails of at least eight celebrities and politicians who are suing the paper. On Sunday, News of the World published an apology, saying “We have written to relevant individuals to admit liability in these civil cases and to apologize unreservedly.” It concluded: “What happened to them should not have happened. It was and remains unacceptable.” The admission reverses its previous stance that the phone hacking was the work of a single rogue reporter aligned with a private detective not affiliated with the paper. In its statement on Friday, News International conceded that its previous internal investigation was “not sufficiently robust” and had therefore “failed to uncover important information” about the hacking. In a message to the organization’s staff, CEO Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, said that she wished to express the company’s “regret for past behavior” — but the extent of that behavior was not clear. Indeed her statement was issued on the same day that Britain’s New Statesman magazine published an article by the actor Hugh Grant in which he told of secretly recording an interview with a former top editor of News of the World in which the journalist disclosed that Brooks herself had been well aware of the hacking and had encouraged it. (He also confirmed that Grant’s own phone had been hacked.) While News International said on Friday that it is setting up a compensation fund and offered to settle the eight cases, it was not clear whether the offer will be accepted by all or any of them. At least 24 persons have filed lawsuits against the paper and dozens of others are likely to join their ranks. Indeed, Charlotte Harris, a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims — and who already has obtained a $1.6-million settlement for one of them, publicist Max Clifford — said on a BBC interview on Sunday that thousands could come forward. Another lawyer representing some of the litigants, Rod Dadak, told today’s (Monday) London Independent, “It’s a black hole.” He added, “This is [News Corp Chairman Rupert] Murdoch’s Watergate because the cat is out of the bag. Two or three people have taken the rap, but the powers that be must have known or turned a blind eye to what was going on. It couldn’t be more serious.”