John Cleese speaks exclusively to ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry about his past experience of being hacked by Mirror Group Newspapers
We’ve seen plenty of famous faces at the high court for hacking cases recently and today one of Britain’s best known actors and comedians, John Cleese, came to the Royal Courts of Justice - but as a spectator, not a participant.
He’s a past victim of phone hacking by Mirror Group Newspapers and therefore interested in the case being brought by the Duke of Sussex.
The Monty Python and Fawlty Towers star told me he came to court to watch proceedings because this is a “very important trial - only the second time in 20 years that there’s been a proper (civil) hacking trial".
It’s day 13 of the case in which Prince Harry and several others accuse Mirror Group Newspapers of “widespread and habitual” unlawful activity.
The publisher of the Daily Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People is accused of a “flood of illegality” including phone hacking, the blagging people’s private information by deception, and using private investigators to illegally get hold of information.
Mirror Group Newspapers is contesting the claims.
Since 2015 the publisher has paid out more than a hundred million pounds settling phone hacking claims - John Cleese was one of them.
He said: “I didn’t know much about it, because of course when you’re hacked - you don’t know. And then a small sum of money and a letter arrived and they admitted to what they’d been doing.”
He shows me a letter he received in 2016 signed by Lloyd Embley, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mirror, apologising “for the wholly unacceptable intrusions”.
“It’s a bit like I felt when I was burgled” John Cleese told me, “there’s a sense of intrusion and you feel slightly soiled, slightly violated.”
The actor is a supporter of Hacked Off, the campaign group set-up after the phone-hacking scandal.
When I ask him if he should now be known as a campaigner for press reform he tells me: “I don’t really want to be labelled as one thing... But I think this is very important. I think the country is in an awful mess at the moment and I think we have to start with regulating the newspapers.”
A spokesperson for Mirror Group Newspapers said: “Where historical wrongdoing has taken place, we have made admissions, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly, but we will vigorously defend against allegations of wrongdoing where our journalists acted lawfully.”
“MGN is now part of a very different company. We are committed to acting with integrity and our objective in this trial is to allow both the business and our journalists to move forward from events that took place many years ago.”
The publisher is contesting the claims brought by the Duke of Sussex, Coronation Street actors Michael Turner and Nikki Sanderson and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman.
Lawyers for MGN argue there is “no evidence, or no sufficient evidence” of phone hacking in any of the claims and board members deny knowing about and covering-up illegality.
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