The British tabloid phone-hacking scandal has cost Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire another £49mn, newly published accounts from News Group Newspapers showed as the company launched a legal attempt to finally draw a line under the episode.
Over a decade since the company shut down the News of the World over the affair, figures released on Thursday disclosed that it set aside £14.5mn for damages and claimants’ expenses in the year to the end of June, and also incurred £33.6mn in its own legal fees.
The latest legal bills, which were on top of £79mn in such expenses the year before, pushed the subsidiary that controls The Sun and The Sun on Sunday tabloids to an annual pre-tax loss of £51mn.
The figures show how the scandal, in which voicemails from celebrities, members of the Royal family and even the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler were intercepted, is still casting a financial shadow over Murdoch’s UK newspaper operation.
The Companies House filings for News Corp’s UK subsidiaries were published as the company called on the courts to set a deadline for any further legal claims. In a two-day hearing beginning on Thursday, the company has asked the High Court to require that any more claims are brought within a “reasonable” timeframe.
Among the many politicians, sport stars and celebrities who brought lawsuits against the company were John Prescott, Wayne Rooney, Hugh Grant, Charlotte Church and Paul O’Grady.
The accounts also showed how disruption in the pandemic weighed on revenues at The Sun and The Sun on Sunday, among UK’s best-read newspapers.
Declines in print circulation and advertising revenues pushed sales at the division down from £324mn to £318mn, although the company said the growth of its digital presence helped offset the decline.
Digital subscriptions, meanwhile, helped Murdoch’s more upmarket UK newspapers, The Times and Sunday Times, boost revenues from £310mn to £327mn. The number of digital-only subscriptions rose 31,000 in the period to 367,000.
Cover price increases of the print editions also helped compensate for circulation declines and pre-tax profits at the division more than tripled from £10.3mn to £34mn.