Lawyers for former England star Paul Gascoigne yesterday spoke of the damaging effects on him of alleged phone-hacking by the News of the World as he was named as one of the key test cases being brought by alleged victims of voicemail interception.
A High Court judge ruled that the breach of privacy claim by the ex-Tottenham player, who has fought a public battle against alcoholism, should replace the lawsuit brought by broadcaster Andy Gray, another former football international who last month settled his phone-hacking case against the Sunday paper for £20,000.
Mr Gascoigne's case will now be listed among five lead claims alongside those of actor Jude Law, interior designer Kelly Hoppen, Labour MP Chris Bryant and sports agent Sky Andrew to be heard in January next year which will seek to establish the extent of the phone hacking at the NOTW and decide the level of damages due to victims. The solicitor for Mr Gascoigne told The Independent that the mental condition of the former midfielder, once considered the most talented player of his generation, had been exacerbated by his belief that his mobile phone messages were being intercepted for years on behalf of the Sunday newspaper.
Gerald Shamash said the claim covered a time between 2002 and 2006 when it is believed the footballer was being targeted by private detective Glenn Mulcaire, jailed in 2007 for eavesdropping the voicemails of public figures and members of the royal household.
If it is proved that Mr Gascoigne was targeted over four years, he would be one of the longest-standing victims of Mulcaire, who is alleged to have been instructed by senior NOTW journalists to target prominent individuals by obtaining voicemail PIN codes and direct-dial numbers for phone messages.
Mr Shamash said: "It is Paul's longstanding view that he was a victim of phone-hacking. It has affected him mentally and it has affected his friendships because he could not understand where stories about him based on things about him which were private were coming from. His condition has been exacerbated by this. It is a relief to him that the court case will sort out the extent of any hacking against him."
In a pre-trial hearing at the High Court in London, Hugh Tomlinson QC, for some of the more than 30 claimants now suing the NOTW, said it was necessary to bring forward Mr Gascoigne's claim because of the possibility that other lead cases could be settled after offers from Rupert Murdoch's News International. The court heard that Mr Gascoigne had emerged along with former Labour MP George Galloway as the only suitable complainants able to become test-cases after the actor Steve Coogan, earlier identified as a "reserve" lead claim, said he no longer wished his case to be heard in January.
News International, which resisted an application from claimants' lawyers for documents seized from Mulcaire relating to any "scheme" between the private detective and the NOTW, has set up a separate compensation scheme to settle "justifiable claims fairly and efficiently".