News International apologises for phone-hacking

<em>News of the World</em> owner admits liability for a number of cases and agrees to set up a compe

A dramatic development in the phone-hacking story. Robert Peston has the news that News International will admit liability in a number of the cases brought against the News of the World and will also establish a compensation fund, with a view to "dealing with justifiable claims efficiently".

The move has most likely been triggered by the arrest this week of the paper's former assistant editor, Ian Edmondson, and the paper's chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck.

In a statement, the NoW said:

Following an extensive internal investigation and disclosures through civil legal cases, News International has decided to approach some civil litigants with an unreserved apology and an admission of liability in cases meeting specific criteria.

We have also asked our lawyers to establish a compensation scheme with a view to dealing with justifiable claims fairly and efficiently.

It added: "We will, however, continue to contest cases that we believe are without merit or where we are not responsible."

The key question now is whether the paper's "rogue executive" defence (it sacked Edmondson in January) stands up to legal scrutiny.

For more on the hacking story, pick up this week's NS, guest-edited by Jemima Khan, to read what happened when Hugh Grant secretely recorded the former NoW journalist Paul McMullan.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Zac Goldsmith has bitten off more than he can chew

In standing as an independent, Goldsmith may face the worst of both worlds. 

After just 48 years, we can announce the very late arrival of the third runway at Heathrow. Assuming, that is, that it makes its way past the legal challenge from five local councils and Greenpeace, the consultation with local residents, and the financial worries of the big airlines. And that's not counting the political struggles...

While the Times leads with the logistical headaches - "Heathrow runway may be built over motorway" is their splash, the political hurdles dominate most of this morning’s papers

"Tory rebels let fly on Heathrow" says the i's frontpage, while the FT goes for "Prominent Tories lead challenge to May on Heathrow expansion". Although Justine Greening, a May loyalist to her fingertips, has limited herself to a critical blogpost, Boris Johnson has said the project is "undeliverable" and will lead to London becoming "a city of planes". 

But May’s real headache is Zac Goldsmith, who has quit, triggering a by-election in his seat of Richmond Park, in which he will stand as an anti-Heathrow candidate.  "Heathrow forces May into Brexit by-election" is the Telegraph's splash. 

CCHQ has decided to duck out of the contest entirely, leaving Goldsmith running as the Conservative candidate in all but name, against the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. 

What are Goldsmith's chances? To win the seat, the Liberal Democrats would need a 19.3 per cent swing from the Conservatives - and in Witney, they got exactly that.

They will also find it easier to squeeze the third-placed Labour vote than they did in Witney, where they started the race in fourth place. They will find that task all the easier if the calls for Labour to stand aside are heeded by the party leadership. In any case, that Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy and Jonathan Reynolds have all declared that they should will be a boost for Olney even if she does face a Labour candidate.  

The Liberal Democrats are fond of leaflets warning that their rivals “cannot win here” and thanks to Witney they have one ready made.  

Goldsmith risks having the worst of all worlds. I'm waiting to hear whether or not the Conservatives will make their resources freely available to Goldsmith, but it is hard to see how, without taking an axe to data protection laws, he can make use of Conservative VoterID or information gathered in his doomed mayoral campaign. 

But in any case, the Liberal Democrats will still be able to paint him as the Brexit candidate and the preferred choice of the pro-Heathrow Prime Minister, as he is. I think Goldsmith will find he has bitten more than he can chew this time.

This article originally appeared in today's Morning Call, your essential email covering everything you need to know about British politics and today's news. You can subscribe for free here.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.