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MGN journalists accused of ‘digging around’ life of Paul Whitehouse’s ex

The comedian’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman is one of several people suing Mirror Group Newspapers.

Paul Whitehouse told the High Court that journalists at the Mirror’s publisher “overstepped the mark” and were “digging around” into his ex-wife’s private life – including her cancer diagnosis.

The comedian’s ex-wife Fiona Wightman is one of several people suing Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), alleging journalists at its titles – The Daily and Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People – were linked to methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” or gaining information by deception, and the use of private investigators for unlawful activities.

Ms Wightman entered a witness box at the High Court in London on Wednesday to give evidence in her claim, where she said she began to be doorstepped by journalists asking about her illness after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had surgery.

In a witness statement in support of his ex-wife’s claim, Whitehouse alleged that journalists doorstepped her and her parents and tried to access her medical records.

He said: “It absolutely put more pressure on her, especially as there could have been possible medical implications caused by the stress. It’s beyond belief.”

Whitehouse added: “It is deeply upsetting to Fiona to now know that they were digging around into her personal and private health grief. It’s hard to put into words, really. It’s sick.”

The court was told Whitehouse and Ms Wightman, who have two daughters together, met at a very young age and married in 1992.

The comic, who rose to fame on The Fast Show TV programme, later formed a relationship with a work colleague who became pregnant, the court heard.

Ms Wightman and Whitehouse separated in 2000 and were divorced three years later.

Ms Wightman is bringing her claim against the publisher over two Daily Mirror articles, including one from October 2000 which her lawyers claim involved journalists unlawfully obtaining “highly private details surrounding the breakdown of her marriage to Mr Whitehouse”.

Whitehouse continued in his written evidence that one of the articles “definitely made life more difficult for her”.

He added: “When somebody in a less obvious profession breaks up, they have enough problems to deal with without total strangers knocking on the door asking about it…

“Press intrusion is the last thing you need when you are having to deal with difficult things in your life.

“I was the one on telly, not her.”

Whitehouse later said: “I know a lot of people have it worse but it is unnerving to say the least when you see yourself being written about by somebody who doesn’t know you and shouldn’t have had access to it.”

He concluded: “It is called a private life for a reason – it is axiomatic.

“MGN’s journalists overstepped the mark.

“And it was not just my life they were investigating, it was Fiona’s, our daughters’ and her parents’ lives.

“It makes us both feel very angry and there was zero reason for them to get involved.”

At the end of her oral evidence on Wednesday, Ms Wightman was asked about the impact of the proceedings, telling the court: “In the week coming up to this I have not finished a plate of food.

“I have not slept properly.

“I have felt really anxious about all of this.

“When I was a young mother going through all these things, I was discreet. I tried to protect the children, all of the children.”

She added: “I have had to discuss some of the most personal things that I have ever been through… most difficult times in my life, the most challenging times.”

In her witness statement for her claim, Ms Wightman said she will “never forgive” MGN.

She said in her written evidence: “I was a woman who had been through the mill and was trying so hard to make her children think it was OK even if I didn’t know that myself.

“To think it is acceptable to look at a woman’s gynaecological cancer and try to find a way to make it public is utterly beyond the pale.”

Ms Wightman concluded: “I don’t really know how they live with themselves or how they sleep at night.

“The idea that someone else’s tragedy, struggle or marriage breakdown is fodder for newspapers is horrendous. Where is their empathy?

“To publish stories about somebody’s private pain for financial gain, I just think it’s utterly immoral.

“I will never forgive the defendant for putting added pressure on me at that time. It is indefensible.”

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