By Sian Harrison, PA
Actor Ricky Tomlinson has described an attempt by a newspaper publisher to have his claim against it over unlawful information gathering thrown out of court as “outrageous and disgusting”.
The Royle Family star is one of six people who claim they were victims of unlawful information gathering at titles run by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), who are at the centre of a bid by the publisher to have a number of cases struck out by a UK High Court judge.
Lawyers for MGN argue the claims have been made too late and are asking Mr Justice Fancourt to either strike out the claims or give “summary judgment” in favour of the publisher.
Mr Tomlinson, who attended a hearing in London on Wednesday, alleges in a witness statement before the court that invoices disclosed as part of the proceedings indicate both he and his son Clifton, who died in December 2004, were targeted by private investigators hired by the Sunday Mirror and The People.
He said he had “no idea” he might have a claim against MGN until about 2019, when he was working with his Royle Family co-star Ralf Little, who mentioned it to him, and that if he had he would have “demonstrated outside MGN’s office”.
Mr Tomlinson says one of the invoices allegedly shows that MGN paid for an “illegal crime check” on Clifton days before an article appeared in the Sunday Mirror in December 2002 with the headline “Heroin and booze hell of Ricky son”.
Describing the impact on him and his family, he said the way Clifton had been written about was “absolutely heart-breaking” and an invasion of privacy.
The actor said in the statement: “I am really angry and bitter now about what MGN did; Clifton was ill and MGN published a story about him and our family only to make a profit from it.
“It is an outrage that MGN made money and published articles about his illness. If I had known for one minute that this was going on, I would not have waited this long to do something about it and it is ridiculous and hurtful for … MGN to suggest I did know.
“If I had known about all of the wrongs MGN committed, I would have made waves about this a long time ago.
“These legal proceedings and having to relive these awful events is destroying me, I do not want to think about Clifton in this way.”
He added: “Going through this process, it brings it all up again for me. It is like losing him all over again.
“I am just about getting over it and to bring all this back up, particularly at this time of my life, as an 82-year-old man who has had several heart surgeries, is devastating.
“For MGN to be dragging this out and making me relive such painful memories again and again is outrageous and disgusting.”
Alongside Mr Tomlinson’s claim, MGN is asking the court to either give summary judgment in, or strike out, claims from Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse, Ingrid Dupre, the former wife of presenter Chris Tarrant, former Coronation Street and Hollyoaks actress Nikki Sanderson and model Paul Sculfor.
The publisher argues that they should have been aware they had claims at an earlier stage and, therefore, their claims were issued too late.
Lawyers representing the claimants argue they only became aware they had claims following disclosure of evidence in the ongoing litigation.
The court heard dozens more claims could be affected by the judge’s decision on these cases.
Mr Justice Fancourt will give his ruling on MGN’s application at a later date.
MGN has so far settled a number of claims over alleged phone hacking and unlawful information gathering at its titles.
In separate ongoing litigation against News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The News Of The World and The Sun, a claim by Dr Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat MP and former director of campaign group Hacked Off was formally settled on Thursday.
Dr Harris was supported at court on Thursday by actor Hugh Grant, a board member of Hacked Off, who is also bringing a claim against NGN in relation to alleged unlawful information gathering at The Sun.
NGN settled Dr Harris’s claim and agreed to pay him substantial damages without admitting any liability.