Stories about a Coronation Street star printed by the Mirror’s publisher were a “complete violation” of his privacy and bore “all the hallmarks of unlawful information gathering”, a High Court trial has been told.
Michael Turner, 58, who has played Kevin Webster in the Manchester-based soap since 1983, alleges that titles run by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) published “highly private details” about his life after targeting him with unlawful activity for some 20 years.
The actor, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, is among a number of individuals suing MGN – publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People – for compensation over claims its journalists were linked to phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception and the use of private investigators for unlawful activities.
MGN denies Mr Turner’s claim, arguing there is “no evidence” of voicemail interception or unlawful information gathering relating to him.
The actor’s lawyers previously told the court he was accused by fellow Coronation Street cast members of being “a mole” amid alleged phone hacking by journalists due to his position as a trade union representative.
Mr Turner’s legal team said he became “extremely paranoid and blamed people close to him for stories which were public, even abandoning his local pub as a result”.
At a hearing in London on Thursday, Mr Turner’s barrister outlined his case against the publisher, with the actor due to enter the witness box next week.
David Sherborne told the court MGN titles published “highly private details” about Mr Turner’s life, including in stories about a burglary at his home and over his 2011 arrest for suspected rape, which he was cleared of.
The barrister said the soap actor’s claims date from 1991 to 2011, adding: “During that entire period he was not only acting in the programme himself but he was also friendly outside work with a number of Coronation Street actors who were also of interest to the defendants’ newspapers.”
In written arguments, Mr Sherborne said payment records show Mr Turner and his associates were “subjected to very large amounts” of unlawful information gathering (UIG) and the actor “experienced unusual telephone and media-related activity which is consistent, now in hindsight but at the time unsuspected, with the unauthorised accessing of his voicemails and other UIG”.
He said Mr Turner’s private information appeared in newspapers “for which there was no legitimate explanation as to how it had been obtained but at the time he wrongly suspected those close to him”.
In court, Mr Sherborne said Mr Turner, who attended Thursday’s hearing, complained about 28 articles published by MGN titles, including instances where quotes are attributed to “a Street source”, “friends” or “a pal”.
This includes an October 1996 Sunday Mirror piece headlined “Street star’s safe house” about the actor moving after a burglary at his home, the court was told.
Mr Sherborne said the story “contains highly private details about the burglary that occurred at Mr Turner’s family home and the financial assistance he received from the niece to buy a new house”.
He added: “We say that the claimant was targeted with unlawful information gathering activity in the run up to the article.”
A February 1999 column headlined “Mike’s baby break” in the Mirror “plainly contains information about how he is set to become a father for the second time”, Mr Sherborne told the court.
Mr Sherborne said there was a “bare denial” that information in the story came from unlawful activity – but said Mr Turner claimed in a witness statement he feels there was a “complete violation” of his privacy.
An October 2011 story covered Mr Turner’s arrest on suspicion of a sexual offence, something he was acquitted of, and quoted a “pal” commenting on what the actor had allegedly said, the court was told.
Mr Sherborne said the actor explains in his witness statement that the story related to an “incredibly difficult time” in his life and he asked “who had leaked this information”.
Mr Turner said it was “incredibly upsetting” and he “was blaming every Tom, Dick and Harry”, Mr Sherborne said.
The barrister added: “We say it bears all the hallmarks of unlawful information gathering.”
Richard Munden, representing MGN, said Mr Turner’s case is “particularly weak”, saying some articles in the claim were before phone hacking started or when it had “significantly dropped off”.
In written arguments, the publisher’s lawyers said call data evidence relating to the case is “a wholly inadequate basis on which to seek an inference of (voicemail interception) of the claimant”.
Mr Turner’s case is one of four representative claims being heard at the High Court in London, alongside similar claims brought by the Duke of Sussex, Hollyoaks actress Nikki Sanderson and Fiona Wightman – the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse.
The trial before Mr Justice Fancourt is due to resume on Monday and conclude at the end of the month, with a ruling expected at a later date.