'I want my day in court,' says manager sacked by Elle Macpherson
Mary-Ellen Field says phone hacking destroyed her career. James Cusick reports
Thursday 06 October 2011
For some it will be a revenge arena. Mary-Ellen Field doesn't see it like that. Sure, she wants her day in court, but when Lord Justice Leveson begins hearing evidence soon, the former business manager of Elle "The Body" Macpherson, simply wants the lights switched back on.
In the phone-hacking wars, lawyers call Ms Field "collateral damage". Among the "core participants" who will gather at the High Court to begin the de-programming of the Establishment's love affair with the Murdoch empire, Ms Field's case holds the potential to become a large claimant against News International. Yet her phone may not have been hacked at all. The seven-figure damages her lawyer is looking for is a hybrid calculation based on five years of lost income, deteriorating health and professional ostracisation.
Anything that begins with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and ends in the Royal Courts of Justice isn't going to be routine. Ms Field began working with Macpherson in 2003. The Killara-born model had outgrown the exposure business and was seeking credibility and wealth using her brand "The Body", which held strong trademark potential. Ms Field's background in intellectual property management had been noted by the accountancy firm Chiltern, which headhunted her. Ms Field did more than tweak Macpherson's business portfolio. Licensing deals for her lingerie collection were revamped; her trademark cut for every "Body" bra sold brought in more cash. Ms Field describes "the most fantastic two years, where everything was brilliant and we had the best time". Then Macpherson split with her partner, the financier Arki Busson, in 2005. Stories began appearing in the press about the relationship. Ms Field says she and her client were worried. "I put people on tight confidentiality agreements, because we just couldn't find out where the stories were coming from," she says. One story mentioned Busson might push for custody of the couple's kids. "The only people who had discussed this possibility were the two of us," Ms Field says. "We had talked about what Arki might do in calls between us."
A security firm was then called in to sweep their offices and homes for bugs. If there were tensions, Ms Field hadn't noticed. Macpherson described her adviser to a magazine as "the nuts and bolts of the business". Things appeared good. "Elle had asked me to contact Suzy Menkes, the high-profile fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune," Ms Field says.
Then Ms Field was told by Macpherson's lawyer that on no account was she to meet Menkes. Ms Field called her client. "She said to me, 'I don't want you talking to the media'," Ms Field says.
The relationship was in freefall. Ms Field says Macpherson blamed her for leaking stories to the press.
When Macpherson fired her, Ms Field was 57. Her employers, Chiltern, sacked her in March 2006. But in February, police investigating the hacking of royal phones told Macpherson they suspected she was a victim of the dark arts that were to lead to the jailing of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman – and the Leveson Inquiry. Macpherson opted for silence, Ms Field says. "I got sick and eventually I was diagnosed as suffering from vasovagal syncope, a neurocardiogenic condition. I needed surgery and had a pacemaker fitted." Mulcaire and Goodman were jailed in January 2007. "The judge, Mr Justice Gos, read out a list of those who were victims," Ms Field says. "Max Clifford, Gordon Taylor, Elle Macpherson. He said others must be involved. I wrote to police telling them I was involved. They never wrote back."
In August last year, Ms Field's pen was busy again. "I'm chair of my local Conservative Association," she says. "I pushed within the party for someone to get the finger out. I knew the appointment of Andy Coulson was a huge error. I was so pissed off. I wrote to David Cameron asking him why Coulson had rights to a second chance but I didn't."
Ms Field's lawyer, Mark Lewis, notes that Max Clifford got £1m from News International; Gordon Taylor got £700,000. Simon Hughes and Sky Andrews are still suing. "Yet Elle Macpherson is still saying after five years that bygones should be bygones," he says.
"She is silent on just what her compensation has been from News International. Now we may learn from Leveson just what 'letting bygones be bygones' actually means."
Macpherson's spokesman declined to comment on Ms Field and Mr Lewis's version of events, with one exception: "Elle has not at any time sought or received any settlement, in any form, from News International (or any other related company, entity or individual). Nor are there any claims, discussions or other activities outstanding in relation to the issue."
Ms Field expects NI to make one final push to buy her off. "It won't work. I want my day in court. I don't want Leveson to regulate the press. I don't want a Libya or a Syria in Britain. But there was a fear driven by Rupert Murdoch. People were frightened by the dirt he had on them."
She wants jail for those who broke the law. "But you need the media, the Fourth Estate, to do its job," she says. "You need the police and the judiciary to do the same. You need politicians to do what they're elected to do. If you don't get this right you end up with a fragile democracy – and maybe because of Rupert Murdoch we haven't had democracy in this country for a long time."
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