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Phone hacking bill could hit £40m

The phone hacking crisis engulfing Rupert Murdoch's news empire deepened yesterday as senior politicians condemned the News of the World and a lawyer said the legal bill for News International might hit £40m.

This is double the estimate the corporation is thought to have set aside to settle claims by public figures whose privacy was breached. The News of the World issued an unreserved apology to millions of readers yesterday for its role in the unauthorised accessing of mobile phone voicemails.

However, any hope News International may have had that its new, humbler stance and offer to make financial settlements would take the sting out of the scandal were dashed by a new stream of allegations about the extent and cover-up of the alleged hacking.

In one story published over the weekend — which News International described as “total rubbish” — Mr Murdoch was reported to have used his political influence and contacts to pressure Labour MPs and peers to drop the subject of phone hacking.

The stories followed News |International's admission of liability on Friday after five years of insisting that the phone hacking was limited to a single rogue |reporter, royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed.

The new approach came three days after the arrest and release on police bail of the News of the World's former assistant editor Ian Edmondson and chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck.

Settling all the cases could cost the group as much as £40m, warned Rod Dadak, a partner in law firm Lewis Silkin, which represents several potential litigants.

Lawyers are expecting a flood of new claimants to join the 24 who have already started proceedings against News International, including Sienna Miller, Steve Coogan and football agent Sky Andrew. Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “What we have seen is a serious admission of wrongdoing by News International. We have now got to get to the bottom of any criminal behaviour, which is a matter for the police and should be thoroughly investigated.”

Danny Alexander became one of the first cabinet ministers to speak out, describing the hacking as “a very serious scandal”.

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