Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

I did not seek fame, Steve Coogan tells phone hacking inquiry

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Comedian Steve Coogan arrives to give evidence at The Leveson Inquiry at The Royal Courts of Justice on November 22, 2011 in London, England. The inquiry is being lead by Lord Justice Leveson and is looking into the culture, practice and ethics of the press in the United Kingdom. The inquiry, which will take evidence from interested parties and may take a year or more to complete, comes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that saw the closure of The News of The World newspaper. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Comedian Steve Coogan today told an inquiry into press standards that he had never said he was a "paragon of virtue" and not "sought" fame.

Coogan told the Leveson Inquiry that he "liked to keep himself private".

He told inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson that he had not made a "Faustian Pact" with the press.

"I have never wanted to be famous, as such - fame is a by-product," Coogan told the inquiry.

"Me, myself, personally, I like to keep myself private."

He said he had not made a "Faustian Pact" with the press and added: "I have never said I am a paragon of virtue, a model of morality. I simply do what I do."

Coogan told the judge that some people did "use" the press. But he said he did not and was not in the "fame game".

"One could argue that there are those who make their career out of being famous and those people do enter into a Faustian Pact, where they use the press to raise their profile. They exploit the press for their own ends," he said. "They are in the fame game."

He added: "I don't do that."

Coogan said in his witness statement: "I learned years ago that aspects of my personal life - and for that matter my professional work - do not meet the approval of some tabloid editors and proprietors.

"But I do not believe that gives them the right to hack my voicemail, intrude into my privacy or the privacy of people who know me, or print damaging lies.

"I am an actor, comedian and a writer. I never entered into a Faustian pact with the press. I did not become successful in my work through embracing or engaging in celebrity culture.

"I never signed away my privacy in exchange for success."

Coogan described some of his encounters with the press, including one occasion when a journalist telephoned the late great-grandmother of his daughter pretending to be conducting a survey on behalf of her local council.

"They claimed to be from the council doing a survey and started to ask more and more questions pertinent to me," he said.

"At that point she said, 'Are you from the gutter press?"'

He told the inquiry the journalist admitted he was from the Daily Mirror. He believes the paper got hold of the phone number after seeing her address on the back of a letter, addressed to him and with her listed as the sender, in his communal lobby.

Coogan said that he was often under surveillance - with photographers sitting outside his flat with cameras - and that reporters occasionally went through his rubbish bins looking for a story.

"I saw them from my bedroom window," he told the court.

"They did not look like tramps - not far off."

Lord Justice Leveson later told the inquiry that he had reviewed a transcript of Grant's evidence and read the Mail on Sunday statement.

He said he was concerned that the "mendacious" comment in the last sentence of the statement was "not justified by reference to the transcript".

"It seems to me that there is considerable force in what (Mr Sherborne says) about the last sentence," said the judge.

"I am concerned that this comment, which may be driven from material outside the words that Mr Grant used, is not justified by reference to the transcript."

He said "consideration" should be given to the "that sentence" and added: "I would be unhappy if it was thought that the best form of defence was always attack."

Coogan told the inquiry that he had worked in television, film and production for the best part of 20 years.

He said he began his career in stand-up comedy, then moved into acting, writing and producing.

"It's what I've always wanted to do. I'm a creative person," he said. "It's what I do. It's my vocation."

He added: "It's what defines me."

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