Gordon Ramsay yesterday became the latest celebrity to be linked with the News of the World phone hacking scandal after it emerged his name features on the list of high-profile individuals kept by a private investigator working for the newspaper.
The Independent has learned that the multimillionaire chef, who was the subject of allegations in the Sunday tabloid two years ago that he had a long-running affair with a "professional" mistress, was a "person of interest" to Glenn Mulcaire, who was paid £100,000 a year to obtain information for the News of the World and was jailed for illegally accessing the voicemails of celebrities and Princes William and Harry.
Ramsay, 43, was informed by Scotland Yard that he is among 91 people whose mobile phone number, account number and PIN codes were obtained by Mulcaire and was likely to have had his messages hacked along with other figures, including the model Elle Macpherson and the publicist Max Clifford.
A spokeswoman for Ramsay said: "Gordon was informed a year ago that he was a person of interest to Glenn Mulcaire and that his voicemails may have been intercepted." The chef joins a growing line of public figures who may now seek damages against News International, the publishers of the News of the World , for breach of privacy amid increasing pressure on Scotland Yard to reveal the full list of more than 4,332 individuals found on databases kept by Mr Mulcaire.
Four other people known to have been on the private investigators records, including the actress Sienna Miller, are seeking a judicial review of the failure of the Metropolitan Police to contact all those who were thought to have been a target of phone hacking by Mulcaire, who was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in January 2007.
The High Court proceedings, which will seek to obtain a ruling that the Yard failed in its public duty to warn potential victims of crime, could open the floodgates to a torrent of breach of privacy claims against the News of the World and a compensation bill running into tens of millions of pounds.
The law firm Schillings yesterday confirmed it was acting for a number of unnamed individuals seeking information from the police or taking proceedings against the Sunday paper for breach of privacy. It is already representing the actor and comedian Steve Coogan and the football pundit Andy Gray in their damages claims against the News of the World after it emerged their phones may have been hacked.
Ramsay, who recently had to restructure his restaurant empire with £5m of his own money and has closed several of his branded outlets including the Devonshire Pub in west London, has long been the subject of media attention thanks to the transatlantic television career which has seen him dubbed "the "Simon Cowell of cookery" and his famed penchant for colourful language.
The chef, the host of the American version of Masterchef who last month sold a 50 per cent stake in his production company for £14m, has complained about negative publicity, saying that "the level of personal attack is incredible".
In November 2008, he was accused by the News of the World of conducting a seven-year affair with Sarah Symonds, who also claimed a fling with Jeffrey Archer, after being pictured leaving a central London hotel. The chef denied any relationship. There is no evidence that phone hacking was the basis for the News of the World story, which came nearly two years after Mr Mulcaire was jailed, along with the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman.
New paywall for Murdoch...
The News of the World, the UK's biggest-selling paper, will become the next News International title to be put behind an internet paywall. From next month, online readers will have to pay £1 a day or a £1.99 per month to access the red-top title's website and often salacious video content. It joins The Times and Sunday Times in the Rupert Murdoch-owned group's attempt to persuade readers to pay for digital content. Only The Sun now remains free online, although it is expected to move behind the paywall. The Times has lost almost 90 per cent of its online readership since the move to charge for digital content.