Prince Harry trial: Mirror journalists 'hacked phone of Paul Whitehouse's cancer-stricken wife'

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Whitehouse attends
Paul Whitehouse's ex-wife Fiona Wightman has given evidence in her claim against MGN. (Getty Images) (Mike Marsland via Getty Images)

Prince Harry's ongoing trial against Mirror Group Newspapers has heard one of the duke's fellow claimants give evidence about allegations of unlawful information gathering (UIG) against the newspaper company.

Today's evidence by comedian Paul Whitehouse's former wife Fiona Wightman is noticeably different to the other claimants: she has no public profile of her own and has lived a private life.

Her testimony presented a stark difference to that of Harry's, who was born into the spotlight as a member of the Royal Family.

Wightman told the court about the impact press intrusion had on her as a normal person who was going through an unusually challenging period of her life and had never chosen to be in the public eye.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Paul Whitehouse with cast and crew from
Whitehouse, who has remained close with his former wife, submitted a witness statement in support of her claim. (Getty Images) (Mike Marsland via Getty Images)

During the period her claim covers, Wightman had ovarian cancer and her marriage broke down.

"I might die before they grow up," Wightman said of her feelings towards her children at the time she was diagnosed, adding they “would grow up not knowing how much I loved them”.

Wightman alleged that MGN commissioned a private investigator to unlawfully ‘blag’ her confidential medical information, noting that when journalists “doorstepped [her] they already knew what cancer I had”.

In her witness statement she also described an incident which, in hindsight, she claims to be UIG.

“I received a call from my surgeon’s secretary and she said ‘are you in hospital?’ and I said ‘no!’, and then she said ‘I’ve just had a call from Stanmore Orthopaedic Hospital that you are having treatment on your back and they need details of the treatment we have given you, but I haven’t told them because one I wanted to call you to check you’re ok and two because it seemed fishy’.

“It really threw me and I was completely confused. The call was obviously fake but I couldn’t understand how somebody else could pretend like that with my doctor or who would do such a thing.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 06: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex arrives to give evidence at the Mirror Group Phone hacking trial at the Rolls Building at High Court on June 06, 2023 in London, England. Prince Harry is one of several claimants in a lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers related to allegations of unlawful information gathering in previous decades. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Prince Harry also gave evidence in the trial against MGN. (Getty Images) (Leon Neal via Getty Images)

“It was deeply shocking to see the invoices and finally understand who it had been that had called my doctor’s secretary, it’s completely inhumane.

“I was still feeling upset and anxious, having a cancer diagnosis and two little kids. I was obviously fragile. How could they do that to someone?”

MGN’s legal team has argued that this could mean Wightman is bringing her claim past the statute of limitations, because she was alerted to the fact at the time that someone had unlawfully tried to access her medical records.

Her ex-husband, Whitehouse, disputed this in his witness statement. “I remember what Fiona was like then," he said in his witness statement. "She was in a terrible state. I don’t believe she had the strength or knowledge, from what I know about how she was at the time, to go to a solicitor.

“I know she has been made so much more upset by MGN’s suggestion that she should somehow pinpointed it was a journalist and then laid it at The Mirror’s door, it would have been impossible.

“And even if she could have –the idea that would they have said “Yes, it was us – please go ahead and prosecute us”? is something she finds preposterous. She has found this all extremely distressing.”

Wightman also described her shock at claims MGN’s journalists viewed her personal difficulties as material for their articles.

Former Coronation Street actress Nikki Sanderson leaves the Rolls building for lunch as she continues giving evidence in her phone hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). A number of high-profile figures have brought claims against MGN over alleged unlawful information gathering at its titles. Picture date: Monday June 12, 2023. PA Photo. Claimants include the Duke of Sussex, comedian Paul Whitehouse's ex-wife Fiona Wightman and actor Michael Turner. See PA story COURTS Hacking. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Actress Nikki Sanderson broke down towards the end of the evidence she gave in support of her claim. (PA) (Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

“I find it absolutely extraordinary to know now that MGN’s journalists would have been listening to my messages. It still really shocks me, because of everything I was going through. I was young, I had ovarian cancer, and the prognosis for ovarian cancer then was awful. I was dealing with infertility. My husband had an affair. It sounds like a tragedy. I am not a tragedy, but I was dealing with such incredibly difficult, painful things. For someone to have listened to my messages and thought “there is a great story here” is just awful. I was absolutely reeling from everything I was dealing with. It was so private.”

She also said in her statement, “The idea that somebody thought “There is a young woman with cancer who happens to be married to someone famous, we deserve to know about this and see if we can get a story about this” is really indefensible.”

Another article in Wightman’s claim was from 2002 and dealt with her ex-husband’s affair with Natalie Rogers, which she claims was the product of UIG.

However, Andrew Green KC argued - during Wightman’s cross-examination - that key details of the article were wrong, and that Whitehouse’s affair with Rogers had begun some years previously.

“If MGN’s journalists had intercepted your voicemails at this time [...] they’d have written a very different article,” he said.

“I don’t know what they would have found out from my messages at the time,” Wightman replied.

Green further argued that “although presented as his new life this was terribly old news”.

Wightman replied, “it’s inaccurate, yes”.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2023/06/07: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and barrister David Sherborne leave the Rolls Building at the Royal Courts of Justice after giving evidence in the Mirror Group phone hacking trial. Prince Harry is one of several claimants in a lawsuit against Mirror Group Newspapers related to allegations of unlawful information gathering in previous decades. (Photo by Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
David Sherborne (R) is acting for the four claimants: Prince Harry, Nikki Sanderson, Fiona Wightman and Michael Turner. (Getty Images) (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

During re-examination by David Sherborne - representing the claimants - Wightman was asked why she is “bringing this action to court” given that she isn’t a public figure.

Visibly emotional and tearful towards the end of her evidence, Wightman said: “I feel that it's really, really important that we should see that the responsibility should be taken by the tabloid press about the impact that this can have on a family”.

MGN have said in a statement: "Where historical wrongdoing has taken place, we have made admissions, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly, but we will vigorously defend against allegations of wrongdoing where our journalists acted lawfully.

"MGN is now part of a very different company. We are committed to acting with integrity and our objective in this trial is to allow both the business and our journalists to move forward from events that took place many years ago.”