Saturday 25 February 2017

Phone hacking inquiry: Comic was victim of 'sting' calls, hacking inquiry told

Sarah Rainey in London

Comedian Steve Coogan has claimed he was the victim of two "sting" phone calls from the 'News of the World', then edited by Andy Coulson, in which he revealed "lurid" details about his love life.

Mr Coogan told the Leveson Inquiry on press standards, which is being held in London, that he had spoken to a reporter, who he described as a "casual friend", who assured him that he wanted to put forward the comedian's side of the story.

The subject of the article was the breakdown of Mr Coogan's relationship after he had an affair.

Showbiz reporter Rav Singh -- who used to work for the defunct tabloid -- called him and forewarned him on one occasion that he was to be the subject of a sting operation.

But on a second instance the reporter recorded a phone call of a conversation between him and Mr Coogan about the breakdown of his relationship, Mr Coogan told the hearing.

The comedian said: "He (Mr Singh) called me and said: 'Look, I want to help you'. I begged him not to put in some of the more lurid details of the story.

Embarrassing

"He said that if I confirmed certain aspects, the more lurid details would be left out. The more embarrassing, which I know would upset me and my then wife's family, would be omitted.

"After that, my manager received a phone call from Andy Coulson saying they had recorded the whole phone call and they were going to print it in the newspaper."

In his witness statement, he said it was not a "malicious personal vendetta" against him but the tabloid press were "like the mafia -- it is just business".

Mr Coogan told the inquiry that he had "never entered into a Faustian pact with the press", insisting he liked to keep his personal life private.

But the comedian said he had been harassed by paparazzi and reporters, many of whom had camped outside his house "day and night" and urged his friends to sell their stories.

He claimed that he once watched from an upstairs window as a group of journalists rifled through bins.

Describing the activities of the tabloid press as "tawdry muck-raking", Mr Coogan said: "I am an actor, comedian and a writer. I never entered into a Faustian pact with the press.

"I did not become successful in my work through embracing or engaging in celebrity culture. I never signed away my privacy in exchange for success."

The television star, best known for his Alan Partridge character, said he "tried to avoid publicity as much as possible".

"You don't see me on panel shows, you don't see me at premieres. I get invitations all the time for premieres and they go straight in the bin," he added.

"I have never set myself up as paragon of virtue, I do what I do and that's what I like to be judged on -- my work."

Speaking during the second week of the inquiry, Mr Coogan told Lord Justice Leveson about a number of allegedly intrusive articles that appeared in the 'Daily Mail', 'The Sunday Times' and 'GQ' magazine.

He said one reporter had contacted his daughter's great-grandmother pretending to be an official from the council doing a survey, only later to admit she was from the "gutter press".

Mr Coogan said other celebrities wanted to give evidence to the inquiry but feared they would be victimised by newspapers if they did.

He added: "They don't have the stomach for it and they fear what will happen."

Irish Independent

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