Actress Nikki Sanderson has told the High Court she was harassed by the public – including by once having her hair set on fire – due to her portrayal in papers published by Mirror Group Newspapers.
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.
In a 28-page witness statement in support of her claim, the actress said that MGN “created and repeated” a narrative that she was “stuck up, nasty, rude, promiscuous, and a party girl”.
“It feels like character assassination,” she said.
Ms Sanderson claimed that in articles published in November 2004, The Mirror suggested she was “bed-hopping” and having sex with three people in one week, which was “so upsetting as it was so far removed from the truth”.
She continued: “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.”
The actress said she was in the toilets of a club and smelled burning as she washed her hands.
“I looked down and they had set fire to the back of my hair,” she continued.
She also added: “No wonder people threw drinks over me when this is how I was portrayed in the media.”
Ms Sanderson, who played Candice Stowe in Coronation Street between 1999 and 2005, also said MGN had a “frightening” amount of access to her and her whereabouts due to surveillance allegedly commissioned by the publisher.
She said: “Learning about MGN’s surveillance of me through my claim makes me so angry as I was a young girl at the time and they were hiring random men to follow me – they could have done anything to me.
“How did MGN know that they hadn’t hired someone who was capable of rape or murder? It has been particularly distressing to learn that these illegal activities continued for a period of many years.”
The actress also said that having people in bushes watching her was “creepy, like those things you see on serial killer dramas”.
Ms Sanderson later described how she was self-conscious about going out because she believed “random people” were tipping off newspapers about what she was doing.
She continued: “The reality is nobody was ringing up the papers with this information; the defendant’s journalists were hacking into my phone and carrying out surveillance on me.
“It’s really upsetting now to find out the reality of what actually went on.”
Ms Sanderson concluded: “Of course being in the public eye means that there will be some level of scrutiny but I don’t believe that it means that your whole life has to be laid bare; that is not my job.
“My job is to portray characters on screen and on stage, but Nikki is not a character; Nikki is me.”
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.