Tom Pilgrim, PA
Coronation Street star Michael Turner was accused by fellow cast members of being “a mole” amid alleged phone hacking by journalists, the UK's High Court has been told.
The actor, who has appeared in the role of Kevin Webster in the Manchester-based soap since 1983, is among a number of individuals describing the “upsetting”, “damaging” and “long-lasting” impact of allegedly being targeted by unlawful information gathering activities.
His former Coronation Street co-star Nikki Sanderson felt like she was “public property” and experienced abuse in the street following “false insinuations” in articles published by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the court was told.
Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of TV comedian Paul Whitehouse, received an apology from the publisher over the unlawful gathering of her medical information while she was undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, court documents revealed.
MGN, publisher of The Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, is contesting damages claims brought by the trio, as well as Britain's Prince Harry, over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles.
Their “representative” claims are being considered by a judge during a seven-week trial which began on Wednesday.
Lawyers for Mr Turner, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, said between 1991 and 2011 he was of “considerable interest” to MGN due to his career and his 2011 arrest for suspected rape, for which he was later found not guilty.
Mr Turner was also an actors’ informal “union rep”, which meant he was “privy to private information about his Coronation Street co-stars”, his legal team said in a court document.
The actor claims it is “likely” voicemail messages he left on an associate’s phone were “unlawfully accessed and listened to by MGN journalists”.
His barrister, David Sherborne, said in the court document that Mr Turner had set out the “enormous” and “long-lasting” impact of these alleged activities “explaining that Coronation Street cast members accused him of being a mole due to his position as union rep, which he was ‘absolutely devastated’ by”.
“He also became extremely paranoid and blamed people close to him for stories which were public, even abandoning his local pub as a result,” the lawyer said.
“He is ‘shocked and horrified’ by MGN’s targeting of him for over 15 years.”
MGN denies Mr Turner’s claims, arguing there is no evidence of voicemail interception or unlawful information gathering relating to him.
Ms Sanderson’s legal team said in court documents that she experienced “unusual telephone and media-related activity” which was consistent with the “unauthorised accessing of her voicemails and other unlawful information gathering”, with private information appearing in newspapers with “no legitimate explanation” as to how it was obtained.
Mr Sherborne said she said it was “‘scary’ feeling like she was always being watched, and ‘upsetting’ that MGN’s conduct caused the lines between her public and private life to blur, making her believe that she was ‘public property’.”
“The impact of the stories on Nikki Sanderson was aggravated by their false insinuations that she was promiscuous, causing her great upset and giving rise to her being subjected to mental and physical abuse, having people shout at her in the street calling her a ‘whore’, ‘slag’ or ‘slut’ and even being physically assaulted on numerous occasions,” Mr Sherborne said.
“It gave rise to her feeling in a constant state of paranoia, distrusting everyone around her.”
He added that payment records to private investigators show Ms Sanderson was “subjected to very large amounts of unlawful information gathering”.
This made her feel “angry and distressed”, with the actress claiming: “I was a young girl and they were hiring random men to follow me – they could have done anything to me.”
In its trial defence, the publisher says Ms Sanderson’s claim is brought too late, but “unreservedly apologises” over four payments made to private investigators which it admits are evidence of instructions to unlawfully obtain her private information.
The publisher also claims that evidence does not suggest Ms Sanderson’s phone was successfully hacked.
MGN said it “unreservedly apologises” to Ms Wightman and admitted she was the subject of unlawful private investigator activity on six occasions, but denied she was targeted through voicemail interception.
Its lawyers said instructions to private investigators, shown in payment records, “appear to relate to seeking information about Ms Whitehouse’s medical treatment”.
Mr Sherborne said in a court document: “It is difficult to conceive of more intrusive and damaging PI activity”.
“This was plainly unlawful, and Fiona Wightman explains that she was even door-stepped by journalists in relation to her diagnosis and how she, quite understandably, finds the PI activity… to be ‘despicable’ and ‘deeply shocking’, the barrister said.
MGN also argues that Ms Wightman is “time-barred” from bringing her case.