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Shobna Gulati in hacking ordeal

Actress Shobna Gulati has told the High Court that phone-hacking led to her son being bullied at school.

Ms Gulati, who played Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street, became emotional as she gave her evidence at a hearing to decide the amount of compensation to be awarded in eight representative cases brought against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

The others involve TV executive Alan Yen tob, actress Sadie Frost, ex-footballer Paul Gascoigne, soap stars Lucy Taggart and Shane Richie, flight attendant Lauren Alcorn and TV producer Robert Ashworth.

She told Mr Justice Mann in London that her phone started to be hac ked from 2003, two years after she joined the soap opera, and at one point she wrote to the Press Complaints Commission after an article appeared in the Sunday Mirror about her "secret marriage".

She said that the "salacious gossip" about her past affected her son who was nine at the time and he was bullied "quite extensively" the following day at school about who his father was. The article led to him having to leave when he was 14.

"I'm a single mum living on my own with my son. I believed it wasn't in the public interest that the parentage of my child would be debated in a Sunday newspaper so I wrote this letter.

"I've always been very careful about answering questions about my son and had never been photographed with him until he was 18."

She had never talked publicly about her son's father: "This is personal information. It was extremely private."

Shocked at the story being in the paper and not knowing where the information had come from, she was concerned that her new partner had given the story.

"Obviously, given the evidence I have seen, he hadn't, but I accused him and our relationship fell by the wayside."

Ms Gulati said that when her son was 11, he ran away from home after another article appeared saying she had been "dumped" both by her lover and bosses at Coronation Street and might be going into the jungle for "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here".

"I was in a very unsure position. My mother had also been seriously ill that year and, given I'm a single parent, my son was really concerned who was going to look after him if I was going into the jungle."

The 48-year-old actress, who is currently appearing in Mamma Mia in Liverpool, said she had never been offered the reality show and was not going into the jungle, but humorously referred to the possibility on voicemails she left.

She had not spoken publicly about her disappointment over leaving Coronation Street, but had on voicemail. Nor had she spoken out about the end of her relationship - although she left many voicemails for her boyfriend.

"I was in a very difficult position. I probably left a message begging for him to come back which wasn't for public consumption. It was between me and him.

Breaking down briefly, she added: "It was a very, very difficult time, losing your job as a single parent....when you have no-one to share it with. The one person you share it with is probably your lover at the time....these voicemails were very, very deeply personal."

Ms Gulati said that she regarded a written apology she had received over the hacking at MGN as "hollow and disingenuous".

Ms Gulati said she continues to be caused "all sorts of pain and trauma" because she is still unsure "as to how much of my personal life was listened to by faceless, nameless folk".

Referring to the apology over hacking, she said she felt "great, you have said sorry", but added: "However, it still leaves me feeling slightly empty inside."

Matthew Nicklin QC, for MGN, asked her if she accepted that the group was "trying to put things right".

The actress replied: "After a very long time they are trying. I would have felt less mad if it had been done sooner."

Asked if she accepted they were "extremely sorry for what happened to you", Ms Gulati told Mr Nicklin: "I acc ept your apology, yes."

She said she felt relieved when she found out about the hacking as she felt she was going "barking mad" and had mistrusted everyone.

The court will hear evidence from Mr Ashworth this afternoon and from Ms Frost tomorrow morning.

Robert Ashworth was of interest because of his relationship with Coronation Street star Tracy Shaw, the court was told by counsel David Sherborne, who has described phone-hacking as rife at all three of MGN's national titles by mid-1999 at the latest.

In 19 articles - 18 of them admitted - over a period of three to four years, they fed on the couple's engagement, marriage, separation, attempt at reconciliation and divorce, and Ms Shaw's battle with alcohol.

Giving evidence about a Sunday Mirror story in March 2003 about him wanting a divorce, Mr Ashworth said today that it caused a "huge amount of problems" as the only people who knew he was seeing a solicitor was himself, his mother and the solicitor.

"I was only exploring at this point the option of getting a divorce. I was desperate to try and get my wife into rehab."

When Ms Shaw saw the newspaper article, at a time when they were trying to mend things, it "completely destroyed" the trust between them, as she and her family thought he was the one leaking stories.

"That mobile phone was my confessional. That is where I left my deepest darkest feelings and the same was left for me. I would have it on at very dark times with Tracy when I didn't want to engage in conversation with her.

"It was much easier to gauge what mood she was in, whether she had been drinking, by voicemail, rather than picking up a phone."

Information in a July 2003 article in the Sunday People about Ms Shaw having been on a "three-day bender" came from a message he had left on the voicemail of a therapist who was helping set up a detox at Champneys health spa.

Mr Ashworth said that at the spa, they were followed by two Mirror reporters dressed in white gowns with a camera, asking how things were going: "I was very shocked. It was indicative of these newspapers, they didn't give a stuff.

"It is disgustingly distasteful."

Mr Ashworth said that when he received a letter of apology from Trinity Mirror before the start of the trial, he felt "sick".

"They think that an A4 piece of paper and saying sorry for the damage they created ... not only did I lose my marriage, I lost my career. I couldn't even get work in Manchester. I had to come down to London. If they think that's enough.

"At Christmas 2003, I nearly took my life because I was in such a dark place.

"They were laughing when they were doing this. How many times were they listening to my deepest darkest thoughts? When I was crying, when Tracy was crying to me.

"I lost my father this year and he was quite a simple man. He said 'why are you always washing your dirty linen in public?' I said it's not coming from me or Tracy."

Cross-examined by Matthew Nicklin QC, for MGN, Mr Ashworth said that he did not think the apologies he had received were "very sincere".

He said that after he lost his wife and his work, he went to live in Azerbaijan for five years: " The furthest way from the British press I could get."

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow when Sadie Frost and Ben Jackson are due to give evidence.

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