It must be a big comfort to the Murdoch family and their newspaper minions, past and present: the company is no longer the phone hacking pariah of UK journalism. Trinity Mirror, publishers of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror and a string of regional newspapers in the UK, has now joined the Murdoch clan’s News Corp in admitting to the criminal act of phone hacking.

According to London reports, the admission, for the first time, raises questions about just how much the company will have to pay in damages. The company said in London that it had settled claims of phone hacking, with more to come. While nowhere near the hundreds admitted by News Corp over the News of the World hacking, it’s a painful admission for the company which had claimed to be innocent. Four claims were admitted to in a UK court overnight, in addition to six already settled. A further 19 claims are reported to have been registered at the High Court in London, with a further 10 claims possible.

The company is thought to have set aside up to 9 million pounds (or around $16.5 million) to settle phone hacking claims and legal costs. That is nowhere near the $1 billion in direct and indirect costs, plus the loss of revenues and redundancy and other costs associated with the closure of the News of the World.

The BBC quoted Trinity Mirror saying in a statement:

“The company today confirms that its subsidiary MGN Ltd has admitted liability to four individuals who had sued MGN for alleged interception of their voicemails many years ago. MGN has apologised to those individuals and agreed to pay compensation. The amount of that compensation will be assessed by the court if it cannot be agreed. The company can also confirm that six other voicemail interception claims have already been settled for agreed sums.”

Unfortunately for News and the Murdoch clan, there is a direct link between its hacking and the Trinity Mirror cases. It is thought former News of the World journalist Dan Evans may have hacked up to 400 victims while working at the Sunday Mirror. But Financial Times reported this morning:

“In addition, as of earlier this year, only 300 of Mr Evans’ approximately 1,600 potential victims had been notified by police. Mr Evans admitted hacking the voicemails of 200 people and listening to about 1,000 voicemails while working as a reporter.”

Evans was given a suspended sentence earlier this year after admitting to two counts of phone hacking — one of which was at the Sunday Mirror — as well as making illegal payments to officials and perverting the course of justice. Similar charges and accusations have been made against people who worked at the News of the World and The Sun (the other big UK paper owned by News).

But Evans didn’t take his hacking to the Mirror from the News of the World — his employment went the other way,  he worked at the Sunday Mirror from 2002 and joined the News of the World in 2005 after a breakfast meeting with News of the World‘s then-editor Andy Coulson at which Evans said he “did stuff with phones“. This suggests he was hacking at the Sunday Mirror, possibly in competition with the hacking at the News of the World.

Even though the potential 9 million pounds payout doesn’t seem very much, Trinity Mirror only has a market value of around 470 million pounds, compared to the multibillion dollar value of the Murdoch print empire, so the impact will hurt.

Peter Fray

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