Phone hackers targeted treasure trove of information, says Coogan
Tuesday 15 February 2011
The comedian Steve Coogan kept a "treasure trove" of information on a mobile phone which he alleges was targeted by a private investigator working for Rupert Murdoch's News International, a court heard yesterday.
Lawyers for the Alan Partridge creator said he was aware of "possible anomalies" on his phone around the time in 2005 and 2006 when Glenn Mulcaire was hacking into mobile phones while employed by News of the World.
The 45-year-old actor is suing the Sunday newspaper and Mr Mulcaire – who was jailed in 2007 for illegally accessing the voicemails of aides to Prince William – for alleged breach of confidence and privacy by listening to messages left on his phone. Both the NOTW and Mr Mulcaire say there is no evidence that hacking of Coogan's messages took place.
In a pre-trial hearing Jeremy Reed, for Coogan, told the High Court in London that the entertainment desk of the NOTW would have been "extremely interested" in matters related to the millionaire comedian's production company, Baby Cow, such as how much he or other performers were charging for their services.
Mr Reed said: "Mr Coogan's position is that he tends to let messages stack up. He also explains that he does receive 'real information' in his voicemail messages – it isn't a case of 'Hi Steve, it's Bob here, can you call me'.
"He makes it quite clear that he conducts business via voicemail messages and there is a treasure trove of commercial information on his voicemail at any one time."
The court heard that a number of articles had been published which showed that Coogan was a "person of interest" to the NOTW.
They included an article published on 5 February 2006 headlined "Courtney's still crazy about Steve", relating to his alleged relationship with the singer Courtney Love.
In joint proceedings with former Sky football commentator Andy Gray, Coogan is seeking a court order forcing Mr Mulcaire to reveal whether he was instructed to hack the messages of both men and, if so, who at the NOTW would have given him those orders.
The private detective, who was last week fined £1,000 after admitting a drink-driving offence, has refused to do so on the grounds that he would risk incriminating himself. Lawyers for both the private detective and News Group Newspapers (NGN), the News International subsidiary which runs NOTW, said no proof had been presented that the comedian or commentator had been hacked. Alex Marzec, for Mr Mulcaire, said: "There is no evidence of interception in the Gray and Coogan cases."
The court, however, heard that details about both men had been found on notebooks kept by Mr Mulcaire at his home in the Surrey suburb of Sutton, including their names, mobile numbers and passwords or PIN codes relating to their phones.
In the case of Gray, it was found that Mr Mulcaire had obtained his direct-dial messages number, which would allow a caller armed with the correct PIN to access voicemails without phoning the "target" first to obtain an engaged tone and then perform a "hack". Mr Reed said phone records showed that landlines owned by Mr Mulcaire were used on 12 occasions in 2005 and 2006 to phone the direct dial number of the commentator, who states that he was frequently in receipt of confidential information from senior figures in football about transfers and deals.
The lawyer said: "There are calls from Mr Mulcaire's landline to Mr Gray's direct-dial voicemail. What on earth was that for if it wasn't for voicemail interception? On any view, it goes beyond a mere plan to target [Mr Gray]. It is actually dialling into Mr Gray's voicemail. Mr Mulcaire had the PIN code... Mr Mulcaire was working 'hand in glove' with NGN."
The court heard that the newspaper company had not yet answered requests from the legal team of the commentator and the actor for emails and lists on phone calls which might relate to their claims.
In a declaration separate to the court proceedings, News International confirmed last month that it has a full archive of emails, including those covering the 2005 and 2006 period, stored on servers in Britain.
The case continues.
THE PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR
Ever since a police search squad arrived at his suburban semi on an August morning in 2006, Glenn Mulcaire has found himself in the middle of the storm generated by the phone-hacking scandal.
The former footballer, whose keen eye for a goal earned him the nickname "Trigger", was being paid £2,000 a week by News of the World for "research and information services" at the time of his arrest.
Although there is no suggestion that this contract required the private investigator to hack phones, it soon transpired that is precisely what he was doing for an as-yet-unascertained number of NOTW journalists. In January 2007, he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for intercepting the voicemails of eight public figures, including aides to Prince William and the supermodel Elle Macpherson.
Four years after he was jailed, the investigator is still being dogged by his past. Lawyers acting for a number of individuals bringing claims against the NOTW have applied to the High Court for orders which would require Mr Mulcaire to name any executives who ordered him to hack into the phones of public figures.
His testimony would prove crucial in efforts to secure answers to the question that has dogged Rupert Murdoch's News International ever since the scandal broke: how many reporters and executives at the NOTW were involved in hacking?
Police found more than 4,000 complete or partial names in the material seized from Mr Mulcaire's home, as well as nearly 3,000 mobile phone numbers and 30 audio tapes apparently containing recordings of voicemails. In at least one case, being brought by Nicola Phillips, a former assistant to publicist Max Clifford, Mr Mulcaire has already been ordered to reveal who instructed him to hack into her voicemails. The private detective has appealed against the ruling on the grounds that to comply would open him up to the risk of incriminating himself.
With perhaps dozens more similar cases now likely to be brought before the courts as a result of the announcement by Scotland Yard that it had discovered evidence of a new group of potential hacking victims, it seems unlikely that Mr Mulcaire will be allowed to fade from public view any time soon.
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