10 Mar 2015

Mirror Group phone hacking hearing – latest updates

Lauren Alcorn, a former girlfriend of footballer Rio Ferdinand, tells the high court she felt “hounded and bombarded” by questioning about her personal life from people she hardly knew.

  • High court hearing will determine the amount of compensation owed by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) to eight representative claimants.
  • The claimants are BBC executive Alan Yentob, actresses Sadie Frost, Shobna Gulati and Lucy Taggart, actor Shane Richie, former footballer Paul Gascoigne, flight attendant Lauren Alcorn and TV producer Robert Ashworth.
  • MGN has admitted that all eight were victims of voicemail interception and other unlawful methods of information gathering.
Mirror phone hacking victims

10 March

I felt completely hounded and bombarded by the questioning from complete strangers. Lauren Alcorn

Lauren Alcorn, a flight attendant and ex-girlfriend of footballer Rio Ferdinand, told the high court that hacking of her voicemails left her feeling “hounded” by the press.

She was 19 when she first started seeing Ferdinand, and has complained about five articles – three of which are admitted to be the product of phone-hacking.

She was seeing Ferdinand secretly because she also had a long-term lover, and said the footballer became increasingly suspicious that she was talking to the press and giving away intimate details of their “pretty intense” relationship.

Ms Alcorn said in a written statement that she met Ferdinand in December 2000, when she was introduced to him by a friend in a nightclub.

“My relationship with Rio was on and off for several years until about 2006,” she said. “During this time, Rio also had a relationship with his now wife, who is also the mother of his children.”

“I have never wanted any publicity and see myself as a private individual although I was eventually forced into the public eye because of what happened to me,” she added.

She said she was “completely shocked and disgusted” by the illegal activities at MGN which continued, in her case, from 2002 to 2006.

Questioned by counsel David Sherborne, who is representing the eight claimants, Ms Alcorn said that in 2003, people she barely even knew were questioning her about the newspaper story – the product of hacking – about her being with Ferdinand the day before he missed a drugs test.

“It was even suggested I was a bad influence and I was the reason he missed the test. I felt completely hounded and bombarded by the questioning from complete strangers,” she said.

9 March

These voicemails were very, very deeply personal. Shobna Gulati

Actress Shobna Gulati told the high court that phone hacking led to her son being bullied and eventually having to leave his school.

Ms Gulati, who played Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street, said her son was nine years old when the Sunday Mirror published an article about her “secret marriage”. She told the hearing her son was then bullied about who his father was “quite extensively”.

She said: “I’m a single mum living on my own with my son. I believed it wasn’t in the public interest that the parentage of my child would be debated in a Sunday newspaper so I wrote this letter.”

She said she had not known where the story had come from, and thought her new partner may have leaked the information. “Obviously, given the evidence I have seen, he hadn’t, but I accused him and our relationship fell by the wayside,” she said.

Her son also ran away from home when he was 11 after another article said she had been “dumped” by her partner and bosses at Coronation Street, and might be appearing on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”. Her son was said to have been concerned about who would look after him if his mother went into the jungle.

The actress said she had never been offered the reality show and was not going into the jungle, but humorously referred to the possibility on voicemails she had left. Ms Gulati added that she regarded a written apology she had received over the hacking at MGN as “hollow and disingenuous”.

That mobile phone was my confessional. Robert Ashworth

Later on Monday, the court heard from Mr Ashworth who was the subject of at least 18 articles as a result of voicemail interception. He was of interest because of his relationship with Coronation Street star Tracy Shaw, and the articles covered the couple’s engagement, marriage, separation, attempt at reconciliation and divorce, and Ms Shaw’s battle with alcohol.

The hearing was told Ms Shaw believed it was her husband that had been leaking stories about them and that it “completely destroyed” trust between them.

Mr Ashworth said: “That mobile phone was my confessional. That is where I left my deepest darkest feelings and the same was left for me. I would have it on at very dark times with Tracy when I didn’t want to engage in conversation with her.”

Under cross-examination from Matthew Nicklin QC, representing MGN, Mr Ashworth said he thought the apology he received from the Mirror group was not “sincere”

“Not only did I lose my marriage, I lost my career. I couldn’t even get work in Manchester. I had to come down to London. If they think that’s enough.”

6 March

It has left me feeling invaded and sickened. Alan Yentob

The first of the eight claimants, BBC executive Alan Yentob, gives evidence at the hearing. He told the court he felt “invaded and sickened” by the phone hacking he was subjected to.

He said: “It feels as if someone has been able to go in and out of my home, the most private of places, and search through my personal belongings day in, day out, helping themselves to whatever they think might be worth something. It has left me feeling invaded and sickened.”

Mr Yentob said that, between 1999 and 2008 when the phone hacking is understood to have taken place, he would have been in regular contact with, among others, Lady Ruth Rogers and her architect husband Richard, the then BBC director-general Greg Dyke, actors Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, author Salman Rushdie, Alastair Campbell at Downing Street, entertainers Harry Enfield, Jonathan Ross, Steve Coogan, Angus Deayton and Caroline Aherne and musician Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.

Mr Yentob said he now knows that 16 journalists were involved in hacking his phone – and they would have had access to information about his health, domestic issues, financial or business dealings, and commercially-sensitive information about the BBC.

Earlier in the day MGN’s counsel Matthew Nicklin QC repeated the media group’s public apology for the harm that had been caused and reiterated its intention to pay “full, fair and proper” compensation to the claimants.

He said: “These unlawful activities have long been banished from Trinity Mirror’s business, but Trinity Mirror is facing up to and taking responsibility for this historic wrongdoing.”

He added that there was no evidence that the board of Trinity Mirror was aware of hacking or that a large number of journalists were involved. “On this last point, it is quite wrong, unfair and unjust, to taint a large number of honest, hard-working journalists with the wrongdoing of a few,” he said.

5 March

These individuals were accessing his private voicemail, helping themselves to whatever treasures they could find. David Sherborne

TV executive Alan Yentob’s was an “Aladdin’s cave” of stories for journalists at MGN David Sherborne tells the court. Mr Sherborne, representing the eight claimants, said Mr Yentob “had one of the most valuable address books – it was famous”.

Mr Yentob was in charge of TV programme’s Strictlly Come Dancing and Eastenders.

Between 1999 and 2008 thousands of calls, some lasting five minutes, were made to Mr Yentob’s phone to access his private voicemails, the court was told.

Though no stories were ever written about Mr Yentob his messages were, Mr Sherborne said, a “fruitful source” for MGN journalists.

Mr Yentob’s case was an “extreme example of the loss of personal autonomy”, Mr Sherborne said.

4 March 2015

The ice cube has melted and it cannot be re-frozen. David Sherborne

Continuing his opening argument, David Sherborne, representing the eight claimants, told the court that an individual’s right to control his or her private information was “cruelly and irretrievably” taken away from MGN.

“Once private information has been published, the genie is out of the bottle. Never again can it be truly private,” he said.

He added that victims should be compensated for “each and every voicemail interception” regardless of whether or not it led to a story, adding that for each interception that can be seen to have taken place, it is fair to assume that there were “many, many times more” hacking calls.

3 March 2015

These proceedings are not, and cannot be, a surrogate public inquiry. Matthew Nicklin QC

The hearing begins with David Sherborne, the lawyer representing the eight victims of voicemail, telling the high court that phone hacking was “rife” at all three of the MGN’s national titles.

Mr Sherborne described the effect on the eight claimants. “All of them described the paranoia, feelings of distrust, and the suspicion that they were betrayed by people close to them, with all the inevitable damage caused to relationships, their friends and family,” he said.

He also listed examples of the intimate information that had been made public due to phone-hacking, saying including Frost attending AA meetings, Richie’s financial problems, Ashworth’s divorce and Taggart’s relationship with actor Steve McFadden.

In MGN’s written argument, Matthew Nicklin QC said the company published a public apology to all hacking victims and parent company Trinity Mirror had sent private letters of apology to the eight claimants.

“It has offered undertakings, and explained that it has already given full disclosure and cannot give more information as to the unlawful activities than it has done so far,” he said.

“But these proceedings are not, and cannot be, a surrogate public inquiry. Some of the answers the claimants seek are outside what could be achieved in these proceedings and are likely to be unattainable in any event.”

He said the full extent of voicemail interception will “never be precisely known” but that the unlawful accessing of their information was now “long ceased”.

“All the claimants know that their voicemail messages are now perfectly safe, and no private investigator employed by MGN will be snooping around their private information,” he said.