News Corp. asks to keep allegations in phone-hacking case secret

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News Corp.'s British publishing unit asked a judge to keep secret a series of new claims being made by victims of phone hacking at its News of the World tabloid in preparation for a group trial scheduled for February.

The details of the allegations, which could be used to seek punitive damages, should be kept from the public unless they are approved at a Sept. 7 hearing and added to the victims' so-called generic claims, Judge Geoffrey Vos said today in London.

The claims outline "generalized activities which we think are unsustainable" if challenged, Michael Silverleaf, the lawyer for the News International unit, said at the hearing. "They may change the approach we are taking" to the case.

News Corp., the New York-based company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, is trying to move on from the scandal after the civil case and a parallel criminal probe that began last year revealed a cover up and led to the closure of the tabloid and the arrests of more than 60 people, including another journalist today.

The amended allegations reveal "a need for a proper debate about the scope of the case," said Jeremy Reed, a lawyer for at least 50 victims. Reed has said the number of claimants may double before the trial.

Lawyers for the company and its victims said at a hearing on July 18 that News Corp. failed for months to disclose in civil litigation an executive's e-mail with instructions on hacking the mobile-phone voice mail of a "well-known person."

Vos approved a request by London's Metropolitan Police Service today to see a witness statement containing details of phone hacking filed July 20 by Glenn Mulcaire, the tabloid's former private investigator. Mulcaire lost a UK Supreme Court appeal this month to avoid filing the document in the case.

Mulcaire, who was jailed for six months for phone hacking in 2007 after a narrower police probe of the offense, was charged again earlier this month as part the new investigation. Vos disagreed with Muclaire's claim the document could incriminate him if police saw it, saying the Met shouldn't be "kept in the dark."

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