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Hacking trial: Paul Whitehouse’s ex ‘targeted’ by Mirror papers after cancer diagnosis | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

  • By Tom Symonds
  • Home Affairs correspondent

Image caption,

Fiona Wightman claims she was targeted by Mirror Group Newspapers in the 1990s

The ex-wife of the comedian Paul Whitehouse has told the High Court that being targeted by the tabloids while suffering from ovarian cancer made it harder to recover.

Fiona Wightman claims she was “door-stepped” and had her phone hacked by Mirror Group Newspapers in the 1990s.

The publisher apologised unreservedly for using a private investigator to try to access her medical records.

The company’s barrister Andrew Green KC said on Wednesday there was no witness evidence, documents, call data or numbers in journalists’ contacts books to suggest they had used phone hacking against Mr Whitehouse and his then wife.

Her voice sometimes cracking with emotion, Ms Wightman told the court that after her diagnosis in 1997, she was repeatedly visited by journalists desperate for her to tell “her story” about her cancer.

They included, she said, Dominic Mohan from the Sun newspaper, who introduced himself as the showbiz editor. “It didn’t seem very showbiz to me,” she said.

In a witness statement made public on Wednesday, she said “to think it is acceptable to look at a woman’s gynaecological cancer and try to find a way to make it public is utterly beyond the pale”.

While Mr Mohan worked for Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, Fiona Wightman alleges Mirror Group Newspapers also targeted her.

Earlier the barrister David Sherborne, representing Ms Wightman, spent several hours detailing her claims that Mirror group journalists with a record of phone hacking and commissioning private investigators, tried to get information about her and Paul Whitehouse, a comedian known in the 1990s for his comedy sketches in The Fast Show.

MGN has admitted paying a “blagger”, Christine Hart, to try to obtain details of her medical condition.

Ms Wightman described in her statement receiving a call from her surgeon’s secretary who had been asked for information about her treatment by someone purporting to be from Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital.

“I haven’t told them because one, I wanted to call you to check you’re OK, and two, because it seemed fishy,” she said the secretary told her.

The “blagging” attempt was unsuccessful but Andrew Green KC, for MGN, apologised on Wednesday in court saying “it shouldn’t have happened, it did and it won’t happen again”.

Ms Wightman said the press attention on her began as she was starting to try to recover from cancer.

“I felt under huge pressure at the point I was being asked to discuss something so personal,” she told the court.

“I truly believed it prolonged the time I took to recover. I was anxious, I was on edge, my confidence was at an all-time low.”

Ms Wightman became a subject of tabloid stories again in 2000 when she broke up with Mr Whitehouse, who had an affair with a costume designer he had been working with.

Image caption,

Paul Whitehouse was a famous figure in the 1990s for his comedy sketches in The Fast Show

She alleged that her mobile voicemail messages to and from Mr Whitehouse were listened to by journalists and private investigators.

They remained friends with shared children despite the break-up and continued to leave each other voicemail messages, to which she alleges journalists and private investigators listened.

In her witness statement, she said: “I was young, I had ovarian cancer, and the prognosis for ovarian cancer then was awful. I was dealing with infertility.

“My husband had an affair. It sounds like a tragedy. I am not a tragedy, but I was dealing with such incredibly difficult, painful things.”

“For someone to have listened to my messages and thought ‘there is a great story here’ is just awful.”

The Mirror papers never published a story about Ms Wightman’s cancer, but they did write about Paul Whitehouse’s affair.

Concluding her evidence, Ms Wightman said she had been “really anxious” about giving evidence.

She said: “I’ve had to discuss some of the most personal things I have had to go through. Most difficult times in my life. The most challenging times. Ironically, it can now be reported. At the time, I chose not to discuss any of it.”

In his statement, Mr Whitehouse, who currently stars in BBC Two series Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, said: “It is called a private life for a reason.”

“MGN’s journalists overstepped the mark. And it was not just my life they were investigating, it was Fiona’s, our daughters’ and her parents’ lives.

“It makes us both feel very angry and there was zero reason for them to get involved,” he added.

Video caption,

Watch: Prince Harry arrives at court to give evidence

MGN apologised in 2015 for using “unlawful information gathering” techniques but denies the majority of Ms Wightman’s claims.

It said her allegation that private investigators were accessing credit agencies to get her personal information were false, arguing that journalists were paying for searches on the Electoral Roll.

The publisher also says her case should be rejected because she failed to take legal action at the time. Victims of privacy breaches usually have a six-year time limit to sue.


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