Comedian Steve Coogan is believed to have received one of the largest phone hacking payouts ever made by a British tabloid, with Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) today ordered to pay the Alan Partridge star a "six figure sum" in damages. He's been gagged from revealing the exact amount, but said it "will make Mirror executives blush" and that most of it will go towards good causes.
Coogan, 51, wanted to take the newspaper to trial so that Mirror Group would have to answer allegations of a cover-up over the phone hacking scandal, hoping that MGN would be forced to disclose compromising emails and invoices paid to private detectives for illegal data.
However, Trinity Mirror lawyers blocked access to a trial with a legal manoeuvre, threatening to leave Coogan with huge legal costs if he didn't go along with an "out-of court" settlement. Either way, Coogan had his say on the steps of the High Court following a 15-minute hearing on Tuesday.
"Were it not for the Mirror's threat to seek their costs if I continued with my case, I would have sought to scrutinise these activities further and get to the bottom of the extensive cover-up which I believe took place," said the Philomena actor. "Whilst I was able to pursue this case to this point despite these risks, I fear that many other victims of press misconduct are too afraid to fight for their rights because of aggressive newspaper legal teams and our expensive legal system."
Coogan alleges that Mirror editors and journalists listened to his voicemails on-and-off for up to 15 years, before executives, lawyers and PR spokespersons conspired in a cover-up to stop the truth from getting out. MGN lawyers said in court that the publisher "acknowledges that Mr Coogan was the target of unlawful activities and that these activities were concealed until years later", before apologising to "Mr Coogan [...] and other victims" on behalf of MGN.
TV presenter Piers Morgan was Editor of the Daily Mirror when the "industrial-scale" intrusion took place. Morgan, who also writes for the Daily Mail, told the Leveson Inquiry – the judicial hearing into press ethics that took place five years ago – that he did not believe he had ever listened to a phone-hacked voicemail message. Asked by a lawyer whether he was aware of any phone hacking at the Daily Mirror before he left in 2004, he replied: "To the best of my recollection, I do not believe so."
Outside the court, Coogan called for the second part of the Leveson inquiry to take place after the government stalled on going ahead.
"It is my view that editors and executives such as Sly Bailey, Piers Morgan, Paul Vickers, Tina Weaver and Richard Wallace have not yet been subjected to proper scrutiny, taking into account what has emerged since the first half of the Inquiry," he said. "The second part of Leveson Inquiry must find out who hacked, who knew about it and who covered it up or turned a blind eye. The Leveson Inquiry must be completed now as the government has promised."