'I was destroyed by Murdoch's hackers,' says svengali
Elle Macpherson's consultant was falsely accused of leaking to the press, and lost her job and reputation
Sunday 22 May 2011
An indirect victim of an alleged phone-hacking broke cover yesterday to reveal how the scandal "ruined her life" after she was sacked by the celebrity who believed she was leaking personal details to the press.
Mary-Ellen Field was Elle Macpherson's financial svengali until she was dropped by the model. Unlike many of the celebrities bringing cases against News International who put themselves in the public eye, she is "a normal person", as she puts it, who has been fighting quietly for years to clear her name.
While she is not one of the five "test cases" identified last week, her lawsuit – which she has brought independently – could be as big as any of them, Ms Field said.
"This isn't about me, although I admit I'm angry," she said. "I don't want to sound vengeful. My life has been ruined by this. But the whole debate needs to be raised. I'm profoundly depressed by how we are treating our democracy in a loose and careless way."
She was born and raised in Australia, and trained initially in art history and later in retail. She and her husband lived in the States, France and latterly London, where they and their two children have been, on and off, for the past 22 years. She is an expert in branding and in 2002 joined Chiltern, a large tax practice, to set up their intellectual property practice. The following year she took on Elle Macpherson to help her with her financial affairs and the branding of her name.
Brought up in the same area of Sydney, though about 15 years apart, they seem to have got on famously. Elle gave her Cartier broaches and sent notes of appreciation.
"She's a fantastic communicator and quick as a whip," Macpherson told a magazine in the autumn of 2005. "She has a fantastic scope of knowledge and is a very good mediator. She's one of my right-hand people. I couldn't do this business without her."
Then, a few weeks later, Macpherson started worrying that someone was leaking stories to the paper about her. Ms Field arranged for Macpherson's house to be swept for bugs, but nothing was found, and suggested the model change to pay-as-you-go phones. The mystery of where the stories were coming from went unsolved.
In November 2005, the atmosphere changed "like night and day". Ms Field, by now completely mystified, was accused of being indiscreet and in January 2006 Macpherson said she no longer wished to use her.
Precisely what happened next, and why, will be the subject of legal argument, but around this time Ms Field became ill. In any event, the following month the police told Macpherson they suspected her phone had been hacked. Ms Field says it is quite understandable that suspicion would fall on someone working so closely with the subject of intense press interest, but once the truth – later confirmed when two people working for News of the World were sent to prison – began to be clear, she was entitled to better treatment, she says. In fact soon afterwards, Ms Field, her reputation now suffering, was made redundant by Chiltern.
Her former client "could have saved my job", she says now. "I don't know about you, but I couldn't let a bad thing happen to a person and not want to put it right. I hope I've brought my children up like that."
Did Macpherson not contact her subsequently? "I honestly kept thinking that they'd all apologise. I've always thought she was a decent human being. I got a card in April 2006 saying she'd been thinking about me and she would put pen to paper to explain everything. But I've never heard from her again."
Nonetheless, Ms Field retains an evident fondness for her. "I'm not saying she is a bad person at all. If she rang up tomorrow I'd be really happy. She's just as much a victim as I am in all this. But then some people can't apologise, or maybe their lawyers tell them not to."
Which raises all sorts of questions, not the least of which is: doesn't Elle Macpherson feel the sort of anger at her phone being hacked that provoked Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor to claim large sums in compensation? Yet her lawyer, Alexander Carter-Silk, says there has been no legal settlement between his client and News of the World.
So what does Ms Field – still out of work – want from the paper? "I want an apology," she says. "And, if I'm honest, having been on £150,000 a year plus bonuses, I do want some compensation. I can wallow in self-pity and I've had a terrible time and all that... I got sick – I've got a pacemaker now and I've been a runner all my life.
"But it really isn't about me. Or Elle. There are big issues here. We badly need a vigorous, free press and there are a lot of mad people in the country who would love to gag the press. This is a gift to them.
"We've got very brave journalists out there in dangerous countries doing incredible things, journalists getting locked up for telling the truth, and here we've got people listening in to people's phones to find out who they're sleeping with. It's disgusting."
She has some words for her fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch, owner of News of the World, which are more robust than you might expect from the deputy chairman of a local Conservative Association.
"Once you get power you lose all sense of reality... although I do agree he did not expect them to do this. He believed Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks when they told him it was one rogue reporter. His father must be turning in his grave."
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