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British actor Coogan wins damages over phone-hacking

Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - British actor Steve Coogan won damages on Tuesday from Mirror Group Newspapers whose reporters illegally listened to his voicemail messages to get scoops, the latest chapter in a long-running saga that has damaged the reputation of the British press.

Best known in Britain for his portrayal of fictional radio presenter Alan Partridge, Coogan is one of many celebrities who, along with politicians and members of the public caught up in news stories, fell victim to phone-hacking.

He was awarded an undisclosed sum in damages by the Mirror Group (MGN), owner of the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People newspapers, in relation to 62 published articles that contained information obtained through phone-hacking.

"MGN acknowledges that Mr Coogan was the target of unlawful activities and that these activities were concealed until years later," a lawyer for the company said in a statement to the London High Court, circulated to media after the hearing.

"MGN apologizes to Mr Coogan and accepts that he and other victims should not have been denied the truth for so long."

The phone-hacking scandal erupted in 2011 when it was revealed that the News of the World, a rival of the Sunday Mirror, had hacked the voicemails of Milly Dowler, a teenage murder victim.

The uproar caused the News of the World's proprietor, media magnate Rupert Murdoch, to close down the newspaper, and prompted then Prime Minister David Cameron to order a public inquiry into the ethics and practices of the press.

At first centered on Murdoch's British papers, the hacking scandal later widened as it became clear that reporters at MGN newspapers owned by Trinity Mirror had also relied on the illegal practice.

Apart from exposing their secrets, phone-hacking also had a devastating impact on victims' personal relationships.

"Much of what was published caused enormous distress and significant damage to Mr Coogan’s relationships with those he wrongly suspected had leaked private information or who believed he was the cause of their private information being made public," a lawyer for Coogan told the court.

The actor, who has appeared in many films including the internationally acclaimed "Philomena", a drama about a forced adoption in Ireland, was one of the high-profile phone-hacking victims who gave evidence to the public inquiry and has also been a prominent campaigner on press ethics.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)