Former News of the World publisher agrees to disclose information to claimants including Jude Law and Paul Gascoigne
News International has told the high court the celebrities, politicians and victims of crime suing the company over phone hacking must not be allowed to conduct a "witch-hunt" against the newspaper group.
A number of well-known figures, including Jude Law, Labour MP Chris Bryant and members of the public including Sheila Henry, whose son was killed in the 7/7 bombings, are suing the former News of the World owner for breach of privacy. In total News International is facing more than 60 civil actions for breach of privacy relating to phone hacking by the now-closed Sunday tabloid.
Michael Silverleaf QC, for News International, said: "it is not appropriate … for claimants to conduct a crusade. The proceedings must not be conducted as a witch-hunt against my client."
A trial of six "test cases" is scheduled for January so that a benchmark can be set for damages in those and other claims.
News International agreed to disclose information sought by the claimants on Friday after the company dropped an attempt to have a claim for exemplary damages struck out.
Exemplary damages are designed to act as a warning against repeating an offence and are set higher than conventional compensation payments for that reason.
Silverleaf argued that the Leveson inquiry into press standards was already conducting "a detailed examination of what went on at News International".
He said the court should not "cover the same ground" and become an "entirely parallel investigation".
But the high court judge, Mr Justice Vos, said: "It is not a witch-hunt. It is not a crusade. It's to determine the damages that you must fairly pay … I'm not going to allow a 'mini Leveson inquiry' to take place here."
News International subsequently agreed to search a copy made by the police of the hard drive of a computer belonging to Dan Evans, a former News of the World journalist.
Jeremy Reed QC, for the claimants, said the computer contained 76 digital recordings, although he conceded it was not clear whether they might include hacked voicemail messages.
Reed said Evans's computer was "the only computer that hasn't been put through the grinder by News Group Newspapers". News Group is the News International subsidiary that published the News of the World until it was closed in July at the height of the furore over phone hacking.
Reed added that the others had been "smashed up" when the company moved to new premises earlier this year.
Silverleaf, for NI, said: "The voicemails on Mr Evans's computer have already been reviewed … and they didn't appear to be relevant. We will check them again."
The claimants, who also include Paul Gascoigne and football agent Sky Andrew, will also be handed copies of any documents that show whether a private detective, Derek Webb, placed them under surveillance.
They also won an order forcing Clive Goodman, the News of the World's former royal editor, to hand over documents relating to an unfair dismissal complaint he made to the company in 2007 after he was sacked in the wake of being sentenced for hacking into phones belonging to members of the royal household.
News International has already searched for those documents but said they could not be found.
Silverleaf also repeated News International's apology over phone hacking. "These events should not have occurred," he said.
But he drew attention to what he said was the Leveson inquiry's inaccurate claim earlier this week that at least 28 News of the World journalists were implicated in phone hacking because they were named in notebooks recovered form private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
The barrister acting for the Metropolitan police told the Leveson inquiry on Wednesday that it was wrong to assume that the 28 names found in Glenn Mulcaire's notebooks were News of the World employees.
Neil Garnham QC told Lord Justice Leveson towards the end of the third day of the inquiry at the high court on Wednesday that Scotland Yard had not yet established whether each of the 28 names were NoW employees.
"While some of them probably are News of the World journalists many of them could easily not be," he said. "Relatively few of the names are demonstrably News of the World journalists."
NI also agreed to hand over any instructions it issued to HCL Technologies, a company based in India which managed the company's email archive, to delete data, which it did on nine separate occasions.