Actor Steve Coogan testifies in phone-hacking case, slams tabloids, News International

Dylan Stableford

A day after Hugh Grant gave more than two-and-a-half hours of testimony to the Parliamentary committee investigating phone-hacking claims, another British actor--Steve Coogan--testified about his experience with the U.K. tabloid press.

"I learned years ago that aspects of my personal life do not meet with the approval of some tabloid editors or proprietors," Coogan said in his written deposition. "But I do not believe that gives them the right to hack into my voicemail, intrude into my privacy or print damaging lies.

"I'm an actor, comedian and writer," Coogan said. "I never entered into a Faustian pact with the press."

Coogan said the first time he was the subject of an intrusive story was in 1996, when the Daily Mirror harassed him and his family--including the "pregnant mother of my daughter" and his 80-year-old grandmother--to get a story about an affair he'd had.

The actor said he was the victim of stalking, surveillance and blackmail by the British press for years. Coogan pointed to the notes disclosed by former News of the World private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, which contained a details of his cash machine withdrawals.

Former News of the World editor Paul McMullan "told me 'I used to sit outside your house,' " Coogan told the committee. "Which is very nice to know."

Coogan also pointed to a series of 2007 stories in the Daily Mail that "repeated the lie that I was somehow responsible for Owen Wilson's suicide attempt."

One headline was "The truth about the man blamed for leading Owen Wilson to the brink of suicide." There was absolutely no truth to the allegation. I had not been in the same continent as Owen for nine months prior to his episode and I had never taken drugs with him or in his presence.

Despite the denial, Coogan said the story caused "serious damage" to his reputation in Hollywood. "I had to make representations to film industry figures in the U.S. in order to convince them this was false."

There were a few lighter moments during Coogan's tesimony. He recalled a 2006 interview he did with Piers Morgan for GQ, which was conducted in an "excruciatingly trendy" venue in Soho. "He chose the venue," Coogan said.

Coogan admitted that he has been reluctant to pursue legal action against tabloids--particularly News International--out of fear.

"When I was considering legal action in relation to one particular story published by News Group Newspapers, my PR advisors--who are extremely experienced dealing with New International--asked me, 'Are you sure you want to make enemies of these people?'" Coogan said. "His use of the words 'these people' left me with the impression of an all-knowing, amorphous beast which can reach anywhere and touch anyone."

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