Actress Nikki Sanderson has told the High Court that Mirror Group journalists “abused” her when she was a “child” as she gave evidence in her claim against the publisher for alleged unlawful information gathering.
Former Coronation Street star Ms Sanderson, 39, is suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for damages, claiming journalists at its titles – The Daily and Sunday Mirror and the 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.
MGN says Ms Sanderson’s claim has been brought too late and denies unlawful activity save for four occasions in 2004 and 2005 when its journalists instructed private investigators to obtain information about her.
Andrew Green KC, for the publisher, told Ms Sanderson on Friday that MGN “unequivocally apologises” to her for those incidents.
Ms Sanderson, who played Candice Stowe in Coronation Street between 1999 and 2005, began giving evidence on Friday.
In a witness statement prepared for the trial, Ms Sanderson said MGN was “continuing” the abuse through its conduct of the litigation since she filed her claim in 2020.
She said: “I have used the word ‘abuse’ a number of times throughout this statement, and I do not use it lightly, but the fact is these people were in positions of power and I was a child and a young female, and I was attacked by people who were more powerful than me.
“I did nothing to deserve this treatment.”
Ms Sanderson, who has played Maxine Minniver in the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks since 2012, added: “The last three years have been extra victimisation and have caused so much more anger, hurt and frustration.
“MGN abused me when I was a child and they continue to abuse me now by dragging this out.”
Asked by Mr Green about this part of her statement in court on Friday, the actress told the court: “The behaviour has been horrific, the gas lighting I feel has gone on with me.
“The fact that I’m having to do this today is traumatic.”
But Mr Green asked her: “If you consider your treatment by MGN to be tantamount to child abuse … why were you giving an interview to the Daily Mirror in 2019?”
Ms Sanderson said it was a planned piece for Valentine’s Day and later told the court there was a difference with prepared interviews which were under her “control”.
Ms Sanderson said in her written evidence that she was “shocked” to learn she had a claim against MGN from lawyers after she spoke about hacking to her then-Hollyoaks co-star Gary Lucy and her friend and former Coronation Street colleague Tina O’Brien.
She said that, after her conversation with Mr Lucy: “I remember thinking why on earth would the press have been interested in me?
“I’m a girl from Bury, not an A-list celebrity.”
Describing the impact of the alleged unlawful information gathering, she said it has had a “huge impact on how I navigated my life both at the time and to this day”.
“I have spent the last 20 years of my life being hyper-aware of
certain things,” she added.
She said she had suspected friends, people working on Coronation Street and members of the public of selling stories about her, but now believed it was the result of unlawful activities.
Her mother Judith Sanderson said in a witness statement that it was hard to see her daughter lose her “sparkle” as she became “suspicious” of people following press coverage.
She said: “MGN wrote such horrible things about Nikki and she was not able to defend herself.
“In the end, Nikki was very depressed. She lost confidence and became very unsure of herself.
“She was paranoid as she felt like she had to watch out all the time, and she dreaded going out because of the reaction she got from the public.
“She lost some of her sparkle which, as her mum, was very painful to see.”
Ms Sanderson was questioned by Mr Green about a May 2003 People article featuring a photo of her and then Coronation Street co-star Tina O’Brien out shopping and asked if seeing it caused her distress.
“It does,” she replied, adding that it showed “we were being followed consistently” and that it caused “distrust” in the public.
“It’s distressing to know that this type of thing is being done,” Ms Sanderson said of the “suspicious” article.
“Especially being a young woman. A young woman being followed around is distressing.”
At one point during her cross-examination, Ms Sanderson became emotional and asked for a tissue after being shown an old interview she had given to the Sunday Mirror.
“It actually makes me a bit sad,” she said, adding that it was upsetting to read about her late grandmother.
She said she believed the alleged unlawful activities of MGN journalists had contributed to a “backlash” against her and “negative” opinions about her among the public.
In her statement she said: “The backlash from the public was also very difficult and I was subjected to both mental and physical abuse. People would shout at me in the street, calling me a whore, a slag or a slut.
“People would elbow me, push me and, on one occasion, a group of girls even set my hair on fire.”
She said that an earlier bid by MGN to have her case thrown out – which was rejected in a May 2022 ruling, was “horrific and belittling”.
In her statement, she said: “MGN’s actions throughout the course of my claim have made a traumatic experience even more traumatising.
“I sat through a three-day court hearing in April 2022 in which MGN tried to make out that I was the problem because I didn’t know about my claim sooner.
“The whole process was horrific and belittling.
“I was not rummaging around newspapers like The Guardian or The Independent to work out if I had been hacked by a multimillion-pound paper because I truly had no idea about any of this, but MGN is gaslighting me and trying to put the blame back on me.
“MGN’s tactics feel like another type of character assassination.”
Ms Sanderson 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.
The actress is bringing her claim in relation to 37 articles published in Mirror titles between 1999 and 2009.
MGN has previously denied that 35 of the 37 articles involved phone hacking or unlawful information gathering, with one article being not admitted.
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.
Mr Green told the court on Friday that the evidence in Ms Sanderson’s case is “weak” and that the publisher does “not accept that it establishes a case of voicemail interception” and does not show “systemic hacking” of her phone.
He said that MGN does not know whether her phone was ever hacked, and, therefore, in relation to some of the period covered by her claim it was “neither denied nor admitted, but not admitted”.
He added: “But it is certainly not accepted that her voicemails were intercepted to any significant extent.”
The actress is due to continue giving evidence on Monday.