Actress Nikki Sanderson alerted to potential hacking claim by Hollyoaks co-star

Former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson arrives at the Rolls Buildings in central London for the start of her phone hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). A number of high-profile figures have brought claims against MGN over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles. Picture date: Thursday June 8, 2023.
Former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson arrives at the Rolls Buildings in central London for the start of her phone hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). A number of high-profile figures have brought claims against MGN over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles. Picture date: Thursday June 8, 2023.

Actress Nikki Sanderson only became aware she had a potential claim against the publisher of the Mirror for alleged unlawful information gathering after chatting with Hollyoaks co-star Gary Lucy, the High Court has heard.

Former Coronation Street star Ms Sanderson, 39, is suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for damages, claiming journalists at its titles – which also include the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and use of private investigators for unlawful activities.

Her case is one of four representative claims being heard in London, alongside similar claims brought by the Duke of Sussex, Coronation Street actor Michael Turner, known professionally as Michael Le Vell, and comedian Paul Whitehouse’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman.

Her barrister David Sherborne told the court on Thursday that Ms Sanderson had suspected friends, people working on Coronation Street and members of the public of selling stories about her, and therefore “didn’t suspect unlawful methods being used” until she spoke to Mr Lucy in about 2019.

Mr Sherborne said Ms Sanderson was “surprised” when Mr Lucy told her that, based on a case he was bringing against MGN at the time, she would “definitely” have a claim.

He added: “Prior to her conversation with Mr Lucy, she had nothing on her mind to do with being hacked.”

MGN phone hacking trial
Barrister David Sherborne (Aaron Chown/PA)

The barrister said Ms Sanderson, who filed her claim in December 2020, says she had never heard about the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, knew that the News Of The World had closed but not why, and had no knowledge of the previous High Court phone hacking trial in 2015.

Ms Sanderson, who played Candice Stowe in Coronation Street from 1999 until 2005, is due to enter the witness box to give evidence on Friday.

Mr Sherborne told the court that Ms Sanderson had been an actress “for most of her life”, first appearing in the long-running soap when she was aged 15.

“Indeed, she would say she grew up on the show until she left in 2005,” the barrister said.

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

He told the court that 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.

Mr Sherborne said MGN had apologised to Ms Sanderson for the “first time” in a document submitted for the trial, adding that this was “despite the fact that her claim has been going on for three years”.

He also told the court the actress found it a “strange position” and “rather frustrating” that MGN settled a claim brought by her mother Judith Sanderson, who has provided a witness statement for her case.

He said her “best friend” Natalie Turner, former boyfriend Danny Young, and former Coronation Street co-star Tina O’Brien have also provided statements.

“They all describe how they would regularly exchange voicemails with her,” he said.

“They all describe her as a private and cautious girl,” Mr Sherborne said, adding that stories had a “long standing effect on her personality right up to the present day”.

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.

Ms Sanderson’s legal team said in court documents that she experienced “unusual telephone and media-related activity” which was consistent with the “unauthorised accessing of her voicemails and other unlawful information gathering”, with private information appearing in newspapers with “no legitimate explanation” as to how it was obtained.

Mr Sherborne said she said it was “‘scary’ feeling like she was always being watched, and ‘upsetting’ that MGN’s conduct caused the lines between her public and private life to blur, making her believe that she was ‘public property’.”

“The impact of the stories on Nikki Sanderson was aggravated by their false insinuations that she was promiscuous, causing her great upset and giving rise to her being subjected to mental and physical abuse, having people shout at her in the street calling her a ‘whore’, ‘slag’ or ‘slut’ and even being physically assaulted on numerous occasions,” Mr Sherborne said.

“It gave rise to her feeling in a constant state of paranoia, distrusting everyone around her.”

He added that payment records to private investigators show Ms Sanderson was “subjected to very large amounts of unlawful information gathering”.

This made her feel “angry and distressed”, with the actress claiming: “I was a young girl and they were hiring random men to follow me – they could have done anything to me.”

In its trial defence, the publisher says Ms Sanderson’s claim is brought too late, but “unreservedly apologises” over four payments made to private investigators which it admits are evidence of instructions to unlawfully obtain her private information.

The publisher also claims that evidence does not suggest Ms Sanderson’s phone was successfully hacked.

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.

Earlier on Thursday, former Daily Mirror royal correspondent Jane Kerr told the court she “never seen anyone intercept a call” in almost two decades working at MGN newspapers.

Ms Kerr, who began giving evidence on Wednesday after Harry left the witness box, faced nearly three more hours of questioning on Thursday.

Mr Sherborne said it had previously been accepted by MGN, and held by a court ruling on a separate trial of hacking claims in 2015, that there was “habitual and widespread voicemail interception and use of unlawful information gathering across all three newspapers”.

“You seem to remain totally uninvolved and totally unaware of that, is that your evidence?” Mr Sherborne asked Ms Kerr.

“It is,” she said, adding that she “had no idea of anything that you have said”.

She also told the court: “I’ve never intercepted a voicemail, I wouldn’t even know how.”

The trial is due to resume at 11am on Friday following a hearing in relation to an application by the duke, which may be held in private.