Sunday 25 February 2018

Phone hacking inquiry: Gazza’s wife had to put house on market to fund libel action

Sheryl Gascoigne, the ex-wife of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne, arrives to give evidence. Photo: PA
Sheryl Gascoigne, the ex-wife of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne, arrives to give evidence. Photo: PA
Paul Gascoigne pictured at the Premier League game between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur in October. Photo: Getty Images
Lawyer Mark Lewis, who represents phone hacking victims, arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Photo: PA
Gerry (L) and Kate McCann, whose daughter Madeleine went missing during a family holiday to Portugal in 2007, arrive at the Leveson Inquiry. Photo: PA

Sam Marsden, Rosa Silverman and Catherine Wylie

PAUL Gascoigne's ex-wife Sheryl had to put her house on the market to fund a libel action against a newspaper, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.

Calling for the system to be changed so it was not prohibitively expensive to sue for defamation, Mrs Gascoigne said she was told she had to find £200,000 (€233,000) to pursue her claim.

The former England footballer's ex-wife also said paparazzi photographers followed her car and forced her to crawl around on her hands and knees at home to avoid having her picture taken.

But Mrs Gascoigne - who began a relationship with the player in 1991, married him five years later and divorced him in 1998 - told the inquiry she accepted some of the unwanted media intention "went with the territory".

She put her house up for sale in summer last year to fund her legal costs in a claim against the Sunday Mirror, although the case was settled just before it sold, the hearing was told.

"I was told that I needed to come up with £200,000 to go into court," she said.

"So where was I going to find that amount of money? All my money is in my home, so that is the only way I knew how to locate that. I think that's the problem.

"I think the Sunday Mirror were hoping that a single parent with three children wouldn't perhaps have the backbone to go all the way and would be scared off at the prospect of having to find that sort of money."

Mrs Gascoigne said at one point, having moved into a new home with curtains that did not close properly, she had to crawl around on her hands and knees to avoid being photographed.

"It's awful to be followed every time you go anywhere and you're having to lose photographers, but I never complained too much about it because it kind of went with the territory," she said.

Mrs Gascoigne, who had two children from a previous relationship when she became involved with the footballer, was asked why the press portrayed her as a "money-grabber" who was "at the heart of Paul's problems".

"I don't know, you would have to ask them. I have no idea why they would say that," she replied.

"Maybe because I was a single mother with two children, maybe it was just I was an easy target."

Questioned why she did not take action over the articles written about her until 2009, she said: "I was led to believe by certain people that you didn't take action on newspapers. You would never win so you just don't do it."

Mrs Gascoigne made one complaint about a newspaper story published before she married in 1996 via the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) but did not succeed in getting redress.

"I just didn't get anywhere. It was like, 'We can't do anything about it'. I got that opinion from a lot of people, that the PCC was a waste of time," she told the inquiry.

She successfully sued a number of newspapers about articles published in 2009, although she was not happy about the prominence of the apologies that were printed as a result.

Calling for a "deterrent" to papers against publishing falsehoods, she said: "I don't understand why when you sue a paper, and it's blatantly obvious that they don't have anything and they completely fabricated a story, you still are out of pocket."

Mrs Gascoigne also told the inquiry she developed a close friendship with Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World and former chief executive of News International.

She said she had not seen Mrs Brooks since 2000/01 but added: "I would not have a bad word to say about her personally."

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