One of Britain's biggest-selling newspapers admitted Friday it was responsible for hacking into the phones of high-profile figures and eavesdropping on their voicemails _ its first admission of liability in a case that has shaken the country's political, police and media establishments.
The News of The World tabloid said in a statement it had approached some of those suing the paper with "an unreserved apology and an admission of liability."
A spokeswoman for the paper, Daisy Dunlop, refused to say how many people were receiving an apology, saying the information might be released later in the day. Critics of the paper say that hundreds or even thousands of people were targeted by scandal-hungry reporters.
It's a humiliating turnaround for the Sunday tabloid, which long insisted that the hacking was limited to a single rogue reporter and the private investigator he worked with.
The paper is famous for its titillating exposes and lurid tell-alls, but critics say the tabloid routinely got its sensational scoops by breaking the law.
Rival media organizations, former News of The World journalists, and alleged victims have detailed a well-organized system of espionage in which tabloid employees hacked into their targets' cell phones and listened in on their voice mails.
In legal papers filed by actress Sienna Miller and published by the Guardian earlier this year, the actress claimed that the tabloid listened to her conversations repeatedly and that others in her circle, including her former partner Jude Law, were also targeted. The spying yielded 11 articles about her relationship with Law, their thoughts about children and their travel plans, the documents allege. Miller became so anxious that she switched her phone twice, the papers said.
It's not clear if Miller's case is among those which the newspaper wants to settle. The Guardian, which has aggressively investigated the News of The World's phone hacking campaign, says that Miller is among about two dozen people suing the tabloid, a figure also cited by other British media, including the BBC.
Police say it had found nearly 3,000 cell phone numbers over the course of its initial inquiry into the phone hacking, which came to light when members of the employees of Britain's royal family suspected that their phones were being hacked.
Prime Minister David Cameron's communications chief, a former News of The World editor, was forced to step down over the scandal earlier this year. Police have also been accused of not fully investigating the allegations.