Gazza's phone-hacking 'distress'

 

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Ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne suffered "mental harm and distress" after his phone messages were hacked by the News of the World, the High Court was told today.

Ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne suffered "mental harm and distress" after his phone messages were hacked by the News of the World, the High Court was told today.

And comedian Steve Coogan complained that neither "the police nor the Government" had been willing to hold hackers to account.

Both men were among a list of celebrities and politicians whose hacking damages claims have been settled, a judge heard.

Gascoigne accepted a £68,000 payout from News of the World publisher News Group Newspapers and Coogan £40,000, Mr Justice Vos was told at a hearing in London.

The judge was told today that a number of further claim settlements had been reached.

Lawyers said high profile figures who had now also agreed settlements with News Group included: Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, politician George Galloway, former Labour communications director Alastair Campbell, sports agent Sky Andrew and Phil Hughes, who was an agent for late footballer George Best.

Simon Hughes had accepted £45,000, Mr Galloway £25,000, Mr Campbell "substantial" damages, Mr Andrew £75, 000 and Phil Hughes "substantial" damages, lawyers told the court.

Details of the effect hacking had on Gascoigne were given to the judge in a statement prepared by the former Newcastle, Tottenham and England star's solicitor, Gerald Shamash.

"(News Group) has recognised that its activities have had a seriously detrimental effect on the well-being of Mr Gascoigne, including mental harm and distress," said the statement. "(News Group) has apologised."

The judge was told that Gascoigne had been the subject of a number of News of the World articles over many years and had "considerable concerns" about the source of some of the "intrusive and private" information.

"Mr Gascoigne was worried that the information was being obtained by bugging or tapping his telephone conversations, as a result of which he was accused of being paranoid," said the statement.

"In addition, Mr Gascoigne was worried that the information was being given to the News of the World by his friends of family, as a result of which he fell out with several of his friends and family."

The statement added: "Mr Gascoigne wishes to take this opportunity to apologise, publicly, to his friends and family for wrongly accusing them of leaking information to the Press."

Lawyers said News Group admits that some private information had been obtained from intercepted voicemail messages.

Gascoigne was not in court today.

The judge was told that one of Gascoigne's friends had also been hacked by the News of the World and had settled a damages claim.

Lawyers told Mr Justice Vos in a statement that James Gardner - who had been Gascoigne's best friend since childhood and was referred to in the Press as "Jimmy 5 bellies" - had accepted "substantial damages".

"Mr Gascoigne accused Mr Gardner of leaking information to the News of the World, when in fact that information had been obtained from voicemail interception," the judge was told in a statement.

"The News of the World now admits that Mr Gardner's voicemail messages were intercepted on its instructions."

The judge was told that Coogan had become "increasingly concerned" about the security of his mobile phone during 2005.

"In August 2005, (Coogan) was notified by his mobile phone service provider, Vodafone, that they had noticed suspicious activity regarding his account," said a statement prepared by Coogan's solicitor, Allan Dunlavy.

"(News Group) now accepts that (Coogan's) voicemail messages were intercepted... in 2005 and 2006."

The statement said Coogan was a "well-known comedian, actor, writer and producer" and "probably best known in this jurisdiction for his role as Alan Partridge".

Outside court, Coogan said he was pleased that, after "two years of argument and denials", News International - of which News Group is a subsidiary - had "finally agreed to settle".

"It has been a very stressful and time-consuming experience for me and for those close to me," Coogan told journalists.

"This has never been about money. Like other people who have sued, I was determined to do my part to show the depths to which the Press can sink in pursuit of private information."

He added: "...at the time when these civil cases began, News International seemed likely to succeed in covering up the hacking scandal completely. Neither the police nor the Government were willing to hold those responsible accountable.

"For a long time it was left to victims of these egregious practices to fight for the truth.

"The victims included not only people like me, who are well- known and in the public eye, but also many ordinary members of the public, sometimes vulnerable people with the most tenuous connection to the news. I am full of admiration for their bravery and persistence."

He said the inquiry into press standards currently being conducted by Lord Justice Leveson was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to the truth and ensure "this kind of abuse" was not "inflicted on others".

"The public needs to be on its guard to ensure that the Press does not escape the consequences of its misdeeds, as it has done many times before," added Coogan.

"It would be very wrong if it were ever again left to private citizens to take on the might of the newspaper industry to address wrongs on such a scale."

Simon Hughes said after the hearing that he was "completely satisfied" that evidence about his case had been disclosed or was being made available to his lawyers.

"The evidence in my case clearly demonstrates that the practice of hacking was widespread," he said. "It was criminal behaviour on an industrial scale."

He added: "Sadly, the deficiencies of the original police inquiries, which failed to investigate the clear evidence of much of the criminal behaviour at one of the most important businesses in our country, are also all too apparent.

"We must now make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.

"Anyone involved in criminal activity at the News of the World must be brought to justice, and all those who allowed a large company to behave in this way must be held to account.

"There must also be answers to the serious questions about how the police managed to fail so badly in their original investigation.

"I will now pursue this matter through my participation in the Leveson Inquiry, an inquiry which I fully support."

PA