Yentob phone like ‘Aladdin’s Cave’

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Published: Thursday 5th March 2015 by The News Editor

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TV executive Alan Yentob’s voicemail was an Aladdin’s Cave of stories for journalists from Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the High Court phone hacking trial has heard.

It was not the political workings of the BBC that were of primary interest to them but the fact that he had one of the most extensive circles of high profile friends, said counsel David Sherborne, a t a hearing in London to decide the amount of compensation to be awarded in eight representative cases.

Mr Yentob, whose “babies” were EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing “had one of the most valuable address books – it was famous”.

Mr Sherborne, who is representing Mr Yentob, the BBC’s creative director, actress Sadie Frost, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne, soap stars Lucy Taggart, Shane Richie and Shobna Gulati, flight attendant Lauren Alcorn and TV producer Robert Ashworth, has told Mr Justice Mann that phone hacking was rife at all three of MGN’s national titles by mid 1999 at the latest.

He said that former Daily Mirror journalist James Hipwell remembered that Mr Yentob was one of the principal targets of the paper’s showbusiness desk in mid-1999 and that journalists sang an amended version of a Spike Milligan song when they hacked his messages.

Although no articles appeared about him, Mr Hipwell said that Mr Yentob’s voicemails were a particularly fruitful source.

When Dan Evans who, like Mr Hipwell, is due to give evidence, joined the Sunday Mirror in April 2003, he was taught how to hack phones on Mr Yentob’s voicemail.

Mr Sherborne said that between 1999 and 2008, thousands of calls, some lasting five minutes, were made to Mr Yentob’s phone, which was left on most of the day with messages piling up.

“These individuals were accessing his private voicemail, helping themselves to whatever treasures they could find and the evidence suggests it was like an Aladdin’s Cave of Arabian Nights fame in the terms of the stories it produced for these journalists.”

Mr Sherborne said that some of the intensity of the exercise was due to the fact that there was a story they were seeking to publish – that Mr Yentob was having an affair.

“A story which is complete nonsense and it is accepted to be nonsense. It was never published.”

Mr Sherborne said that Mr Yentob’s case was an “extreme example of the loss of personal autonomy”.

Robert Ashworth was of interest because of his relationship with Tracy Shaw, who was a massive soap star at the time, with 19 million people watching the final episode of Coronation Street in which she appeared.

Many of them were tabloid readers who wanted to know about her private life and in terms of her life off-screen, there was much for the newspapers to feed on, said counsel.

“There was their engagement, marriage, separation, attempt at reconciliation, divorce and their lives as they tried to move on.

“For the newspapers who saw these individuals as products, this was perfect.

“What happened was that these journalists found a secret way into their private life, their innermost thoughts and feelings.

“Unlike normal people, Mr Ashworth and his then wife did not have the privilege or the ability or the freedom to deal with the problems in their relationship behind closed doors.

“And why not? Because these newspapers found a secret way, an exclusive way of taking their readers into the homes and lives of this couple and that was through hacking and by private investigators. Recording every moment – usually the worst ones.

“Even better for them was that Mr Ashworth was trying to deal with the terrible problems his wife of the time was going through – her battle with alcohol and an eating disorder.

“These were published courtesy of MGN. There is no public interest claim at all in any of these articles. There were 19 of them, with 18 admitted, over a period of three to four years.”

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow when Mr Sherborne will conclude his opening, Matthew Nicklin QC will open MGN’s case and Mr Yentob will give evidence.

Published: Thursday 5th March 2015 by The News Editor

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