Britain's Fergie wins phone hacking damages

Sarah, the Duchess of York -- the ex-wife of Britain's Prince Andrew -- won undisclosed damages from Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid publisher on Friday over phone hacking by the News of the World.

The former Sarah Ferguson, who divorced Queen Elizabeth II's second son in 1996, was among 17 prominent figures to settle their cases with News Group Newspapers (NGN) at London's High Court.

The 16 others include singer James Blunt, Israeli entertainer Uri Geller, and actor Hugh Grant, who had announced in December that he had won "substantial" damages over hacking by the now-defunct News of the World.

NGN has paid out damages to dozens of celebrities over the 2011 phone hacking scandal, including actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller, England footballer Ashley Cole and former deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Murdoch was forced to close down the News of the World in July 2011 over revelations that it had hacked into the voicemail messages of a murdered schoolgirl as well as dozens of public figures.

The scandal sparked a judicial inquiry into press ethics and three police investigations.

Sarah's lawyer David Sherborne told the court that the duchess had become suspicious as journalists and photographers often seemed to know her whereabouts, and would be waiting for her at unpublicised events.

"NGN has accepted liability and agreed to pay damages to the claimant plus her legal costs," said Sherborne.

"During the period from 2000 until 2006 the claimant experienced unusual activity on her mobile phone.

"The claimant also noticed that journalists and/or photographers appeared to know her location in advance."

Her voicemails were intercepted by the News of the World "over a considerable period of time", he added.

NGN's lawyer Anthony Hudson offered Sarah the publisher's "sincere apologies".

"NGN acknowledges that the information should never have been obtained unlawfully in the manner in which it was," he told the court.

The biggest payout over the hacking scandal so far is the £3 million ($4.7 million, 3.5 million euros), including £1 million for charity, paid to the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

"Four Weddings and a Funeral" star Grant announced in December that he was donating his damages to the Hacked Off campaign against press intrusion.

Sarah, 53, affectionately nicknamed Fergie, had been the target of several News of the World exposes over the years.

Most recently in 2010, she had been filmed by an undercover journalist from the weekly, offering to sell access to her ex-husband for £500,000. Andrew was a trade ambassador for Britain at the time.

kjl/rjm/rm