Nikki Sanderson's hair was set on fire over portrayal in newspapers, trial hears

ITV News' Nick Wallis reports live on the latest from Nikki Sanderson's lawsuit against MGN

Coronation Street and Hollyoaks star Nikki Sanderson has told the hacking trial against the Mirror's publisher how she was harassed in the street over her portrayal in news stories.The actor, 39, said people attack her over "false insinuations" in articles by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) titles, including on one occasion when a group of girls set her hair on fire.

Ms Sanderson is suing MGN for damages at the High Court in London, claiming its journalists had gained information through nefarious means.

These tactics include phone hacking, so-called "blagging" (gaining information through deception), and use of private investigators for unlawful activities.

Andrew Green KC, for the publisher, told Ms Sanderson on Friday that MGN “unequivocally apologises” to her for those incidents.

In its trial defence, the publisher claims that evidence does not suggest Ms Sanderson’s phone was successfully hacked.

MGN 'unequivocally apologised' to Ms Sanderson but is still contesting her claim. Credit: PA

However, it did acknowledge making four payments to private investigators, which it admits are evidence of instructions to unlawfully obtain her private information.

In a 28-page witness statement in support of her claim, Ms Sanderson said that MGN “created and repeated” a narrative that she was “stuck up, nasty, rude, promiscuous, and a party girl”, which she described as "character assassination". The actor claimed that in articles published in November 2004, The Mirror suggested she was “bed-hopping” and having sex with three people in one week, which was “so upsetting as it was so far removed from the truth”. She continued: “The backlash from the public was also very difficult and I was subjected to both mental and physical abuse. “People would elbow me, push me and, on one occasion, a group of girls even set my hair on fire.”

Recalling the moment she was washing her hands in a nightclub toilet and smelled burning, she said: “I looked down and they had set fire to the back of my hair.”

Ms Sanderson's case is one of four against MGN. Credit: PA

“No wonder people threw drinks over me when this is how I was portrayed in the media,” she added. Ms Sanderson said MGN had a “frightening” amount of access to her and her whereabouts due to surveillance allegedly commissioned by the publisher. “Learning about MGN’s surveillance of me through my claim makes me so angry as I was a young girl at the time and they were hiring random men to follow me – they could have done anything to me," she added. The actor also said that having people in bushes watching her was “creepy, like those things you see on serial killer dramas”, adding that she felt self-conscious about leaving the house. Ms Sanderson's case is one of four similar claims being heard, with Prince Harry listing 50 complaints against articles published by MGN's titles - which also include the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

Coronation Street actor Michael Turner - known professionally as Michael Le Vell - and comedian Paul Whitehouse's ex-wife Fiona Wightman have also launched bids against the publisher.

Prince Harry arrives at court on Wednesday ahead of hacking claim hearing. Credit: PA

In a witness statement prepared for the trial, Ms Sanderson said MGN was “continuing” the abuse through its conduct of the litigation since she filed her claim in 2020.

“I have used the word ‘abuse’ a number of times throughout this statement, and I do not use it lightly," she said.

"But the fact is these people were in positions of power and I was a child and a young female, and I was attacked by people who were more powerful than me. I did nothing to deserve this treatment.”

Ms Sanderson, who has played Maxine Minniver in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks since 2012, added: “The last three years have been extra victimisation and have caused so much more anger, hurt and frustration.

“MGN abused me when I was a child and they continue to abuse me now by dragging this out.”

She went on: “The behaviour has been horrific, the gas lighting I feel has gone on with me. The fact that I’m having to do this today is traumatic.”

Challenging her, Mr Green asked: “If you consider your treatment by MGN to be tantamount to child abuse … why were you giving an interview to the Daily Mirror in 2019?”

Ms Sanderson said it was a planned piece for Valentine’s Day and later told the court there was a difference with prepared interviews which were under her “control”.

Ms Sanderson said in her written evidence that she was “shocked” to learn she had a claim against MGN from lawyers after she spoke about hacking to her then-Hollyoaks co-star Gary Lucy and her friend and former Coronation Street colleague Tina O’Brien.

At first, she suspected friends, people working on Coronation Street and members of the public has been selling stories about her and therefore didn't suspect "unlawful methods" were at play.

Describing the impact of details on her personal life being gathered in this way, she said it has had a “huge impact on how I navigated my life both at the time and to this day”.

“I have spent the last 20 years of my life being hyper-aware of certain things,” she added.

Ms Sanderson’s claim spanned a period of 10 years, 1999 to 2009, and that she complains about 37 articles in Mirror titles.

Andrew Green KC, the lead lawyer for Mirror Group Newspapers, questioned Nikki Sanderson over newspaper articles about the actress Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Her barrister told the court how MGN had admitted unlawful information in relation to one story from October 2004, and made admissions that its journalists instructed private investigators to unlawfully obtain information on four occasions. MGN has previously denied that 35 of the 37 articles involved phone hacking or unlawful information gathering, with one article being not admitted.

The trial previously heard that Ms Sanderson felt like she was “public property” and experienced abuse in the street following “false insinuations” in articles published by MGN titles. MGN previously brought a bid to have Ms Sanderson’s claim thrown out but it was allowed to proceed by Mr Justice Fancourt in a May 2022 ruling.

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