Mirror hacking trial: It was a horrific invasion of my life, BBC’s creative director tells court

At the civil trial against Mirror Group Newspapers, Alan Yentob told the court that the hacking of his voicemail messages left him 'sickened'

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The Independent Online

The BBC’s internal opinions on the Iraq War and the Hutton Inquiry were potential targets for Mirror Group journalists who hacked the phones of a high-profile executive, the High Court heard today.

Giving evidence at the civil trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for the first time, the BBC’s creative director Alan Yentob told the court that the mass hacking of his voicemail messages by reporters represented an  “horrific invasion” of his private life that left him “sickened”.

He listed an array of high-profile figures whose messages he suspects were intercepted – including Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, the author Salman Rushdie, and former BBC Director -General, Greg Dyke.

Mr Yentob also listed the actors Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, the musician Sting and his wife Trudi Styler, the comedians Steve Coogan, Harry Enfield and Caroline Ahern, and the presenter, Jonathan Ross, as others likely to have left phone messages during the years when he alleges that 16 journalists across MGN’s three national tabloid titles had illegally accessed his phones.

Over the period of the hacking, it it likely some of the messages on his phone related to the 2003 Iraq War, and the subsequent Hutton Inquiry into the death of weapons expert David Kelly, who took his own life after giving an unauthorised briefing to a BBC journalist, the court heard.

Seated in the witness box, Mr Yentob described the list he gave to the court as “not remotely complete” and dismissed a formal apology given in court by MGN as a “PR stunt”.  He told the court that Scotland Yard’s on-going investigation of alleged criminal activity inside the Mirror Group meant “they now have a gun to their heads”.

Earlier in the week the court heard allegations that hacking on a “mass industrial scale” took place inside MGN leaving similar activity inside News International looking like a “cottage industry”.

After issuing an “unequivocal” apology and stating that voicemail interception was “unlawful, unacceptable” and should never have happened, MGN’s counsel, Matthew Nicklin QC, challenged Mr Yentob’s account that hacking had been widespread and “went to the top” of MGN.

He repeatedly asked the BBC executive how he knew hacking went further than “a trusted inner-circle”.

The MGN counsel suggested that Mirror journalists were far more interested in “exclusives” about the BBC’s EastEnders soap or Strictly Come Dancing than in Mr Yentob’s personal life.

The hard-line questioning led to heated responses from Mr Yentob who said he resented the allegation that he was against journalists doing their job. “There is nothing wrong with exclusives, as long as they don’t  involve criminality.”

He quoted from his witness statement, saying “I have never sought to stop anything being published against me. I genuinely believe in a free press”. But he added that phone hacking wasn’t about a free press, but information gained through “a criminal offence”.

Mr Nicklin also questioned Mr Yentob’s allegation that MGN journalists had been interested in a supposed affair between himself and Lady Ruthie Rogers, the wife of the architect, Lord Rogers. There was no affair and both Lord and Lady Rogers are long-terms friends of Mr Yentob.

Repeatedly asked by Mr Nicklin what evidence he had to believe the Mirror probed the mistaken affair, Mr Yentob pointed to an invoice which stated “Yentob/Rogers”.

The trial continues next week.

Alan Yentob VS The Mirror: Quotes of the day

Alan Yentob on the “industrial scale” of MGN hacking: The cynical and systematic nature of this invasion of my privacy is staggering … even now, some time after the Metropolitan police initially informed me I was a victim, I still find it hard to digest the sheer scale of what took place.

Mr Yentob on being told by Scotland Yard he had been hacked for years: It feels as if someone has been able to go in and out of my home, the most private of places, and search through my belongings, day in day out, helping themselves to whatever they think might be worth something. It has left me feeling invaded and sickened.

Mr Yentob’s response to accusation by Matthew Nicklin QC, lawyer for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), that he had involved his lawyers in preparing his statement: I can’t do it all on my own, Mr Nicklin.

Mr Yentob’s view on MGN’s apology: Two years seems rather a long time in owning up.

Mr Nicklin – from MGN’s formal statement: Trinity Mirror has put in enormous resources into finding evidence that has  now enabled a clearer picture to emerge of what went on.

Mr Nicklin – citing convicted former Sunday Mirror hacker Dan Evans, in MGN’s statement: Phone hacking was carried out by a trusted inner-circle and the whole exercise was shrouded in secrecy.