Steve Coogan says journalists come to Brighton to trawl for gossip about him

Posted On 23 Nov 2011 at 4:30 am

Steve Coogan, the actor and comedian who has a home in Brighton and Hove, gave evidence yesterday to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.

He submitted a written statement earlier this month – on Wednesday 9 November – which was published yesterday (Tuesday 22 November).

And he answered questions yesterday afternoon from barrister Robert Jay, the counsel to the inquiry.

Two strands of his evidence related to an interview carried out in Brighton and journalists coming to Brighton and Hove on “fishing expeditions” to try to dig the dirt.

In his written submission Mr Coogan, 46, said that one element of his difficult relationship with the press was the way that some journalists had targeted members of his family.

He described an interview that took place over a meal at a vegetarian restaurant in Brighton three years ago.

He said: “I agreed to do a profile for The Sunday Times in 2008, ironically in the hope of redressing misrepresentations elsewhere in the press.

Untruths

“The published interview contained several untruths and also a photograph of my children taken by a member of the paparazzi using a telephoto lens.

“At the time it was taken I confronted the photographer and was told he was taking photographs of something else (the Palace Pier).

“The photos were then sold to an agency called Big Pictures, which in turn sold them to The Sunday Times.

“The newspaper accepted it was wrong to publish a photo of my children without my permission and printed an apology.

“It was a one-inch item on page 2 or 3 and I had to tell my friends where to find it.

“It had nothing of the prominence of the offending article.

“The point is that these transgressions should not occur in the first place.

Minuscule

“A minuscule apology is closing the door after the horse has bolted.

Mr Jay said yesterday: “You’re noted as saying that – I quote: ‘He’s most talkative about his daughter’s schooling. She attends a school in Brighton.’

“So I think what I’m being asked to suggest to you is: well, you’re giving some information out quite freely about your daughter and therefore it’s not unreasonable to make the mistake and publish a photograph.”

Mr Coogan said: “The conversation about my daughter was not part of the interview.

“It was intimated to me by him that this was off the record because he started the question by saying himself, ‘I’m thinking of sending my children to such-and-such a school’ or ‘I’m looking at schools for my children,’ he said to me.

“Then he said, ‘Do you know any good schools?’ and then he spoke about his children.

“And this was – it was – the conversation was couched in terms of – and initiated with where he wants to send his kids to school.

“It was over dinner and we’d just sat down, and although he didn’t say, ‘This is off the record,’ that was the inference I drew.

Misled

“I would never present that kind of information in an article about my family. I don’t talk about my family.

“So I felt I was misled about that.”

He said that the Sunday Times journalist had been disingenuous.

Mr Coogna said that he had agreed to do the interview only because he was told that it would put right some of the inaccurate stories about him.

Instead, he said, the author used it as a means to rehash some of the bad publicity that Mr Coogan had endured in the past.

Mr Coogan also spoke about stalking and surveillance.

He said: “Over the years journalists and photographers have frequently camped outside my house day and night watching who comes and goes (the News of the World’s Paul McMullan was one of them).

“Sometimes I have been alerted to this by generous neighbours knocking on my door to let me know about ‘the men in the cars with cameras’ outside my home.

Rubbish

“Some of these reporters have gone through the rubbish in my bins and some have followed me in cars when I left home.

“I am bringing a civil action in relation to the hacking into my voicemail.

“In addition to the hacking evidence, I have seen evidence in Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook of amounts of money I have withdrawn from cash machines, and details of hotel bills I have paid and the payment method used.

“It is a staggering intrusion into my (or for that matter, anyone’s) privacy.

“I have been told by friends that journalists have visited pubs in Brighton on ‘fishing expeditions’, asking people if they knew me or knew any stories about me, who my friends were, who I was spending time with and any other personal details.

“These incidents have been happening on and off for at least the past ten years.

“There is a horrible cumulative effect of being under constant surveillance.”

He added what he described as general points.

Exploits

He said: “While some regard the personal sexual exploits of celebrities as quote ‘tittle tattle’ and entertainment, when you are the subject of such a story it is not ‘harmless fun’.

“It can be harmful, difficult and of course both damaging and upsetting for innocent third parties caught up in it.

“These examples of tabloid intrusion are typical and provide the bread and butter of the tabloids but its familiarity and regularity does not stop it being fundamentally wrong.

“It is not merely the matter of the publication of the story being a damaging and hurtful invasion of privacy but also the way the ‘news’ is gathered is itself toxic, unethical, unjustified and damaging.”

In a brief conclusion he said: “Genuine public interest journalism should be separated from the muckrakers who use it as a cloak to justify increasing sales by any means necessary.

“There is no public interest in the vast majority of their stories.”

His case for a private life was supported a day earlier by Brighton journalism professor Roy Greenslade, who teaches at City University and writes a blog for The Guardian.

Professor Greenslade, 64, who lives in Kemp Town, said: “Even if we accept that there is some kind of penalty for fame – and there clearly is – then it cannot be so exceptional as to warrant undue intrusion.

“There needs to be a sense of proportion and editors need to recognise that unless they can genuinely show they are serving ‘the public interest’ then intrusion cannot be justified.”

The inquiry, led by Brian Leveson – also known as Lord Leveson – continues today at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

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