Paul Gascoigne told the High Court today that phone-hacking was linked to his alcoholism.
The 47-year-old former football star started his evidence at the hearing in London to determine what compensation should be paid by Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) in eight representative cases by telling Mr Justice Mann that he was “fuming”.
Smartly dressed in a dark grey suit and pink-and-white open-necked striped shirt, he said he changed his mobile because he knew there was something going on with it.
His voice hoarse and shaking with emotion, he said: “I knew I was getting hacked by the Mirror. This continued for ages. Phone calls to my father and family were getting blocked so I changed my mobile. It happened again so I kept on changing mobiles, five or six times a month.”
Questioned by David Sherborne, who has said hacking was rife at all three of the group’s national titles by mid-1999, he said that, to start with, the experience was “so scary”.
Gascoigne, who is complaining about 18 articles - all accepted to have been the product of illegal activity - said: “I couldn’t speak to anybody, I was scared to speak to anybody... my parents, my family and kids, it was just horrendous.
I have waited 15 years to be sat here so I am disgusted, really. I would like to trade my mobile phone in for a coffin because these guys have ruined my life. I have no life.Paul Gascoigne
“And people can’t understand why I became an alcoholic.”
Gascoigne went on: “At the time I was going through a bad time because I knew I was getting hacked, 110%. Of course (people) wouldn’t believe it - my family and Mr McKeown (therapist Johnny McKeown).
“As I was speaking to him on the phone, it clicked again. He told me I was paranoid, I was going through a mental disorder.
“I said ‘No, there’s f***-all wrong with me’. I knew, I knew. I put the phone down... I’ve never told a lie, nothing to lie about, nothing.
After speaking briefly, Gascoigne was told he would not face cross-examination by Matthew Nicklin QC, for MGN, and his evidence was going unchallenged.
He replied: “I have waited 15 years to be sat here so I am disgusted, really.
“I would like to trade my mobile phone in for a coffin because these guys have ruined my life. I have no life.”
As Gascoigne left the building, he said: “They bottled it.”
In a written statement supplied to the court, Gascoigne said that his fame had brought many benefits but also caused him much heartache as he had struggled to come to terms with the end of his playing career.
Constant media pressure made it very difficult for him to lead a normal and private life and had led to his family not being as close as they once were.
He said he suffered from alcohol dependency over a number of years and also had treatment for drug use and addiction to the drink Red Bull.
“I have suffered from mental illness, including paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. I am bipolar and I have an addictive personality.”
He said the period between 2000 and 2006 was very difficult, mentally and physically, and he wrongly accused people close to him, such as his stepdaughter Bianca, of going to the newspapers with stories about him.
“I became obsessed about being monitored. I felt that I was being watched or listened into all the time for years and the pressure on me because of that was more than I think any sane person could bear.”
He said that, while he was at Everton in October 2000, he felt as if his life was falling apart and went to stay at the Priory in the early hours as he needed to get help very quickly.
“The main reason why I had to go to get help at the Priory on this occasion was the constant pressure from the media, including articles and threats of articles being published by journalists.
“I was also convinced that my phone was being tapped to get stories about me that very few people knew about. I felt very paranoid at that time about being pursued by the media.
“I felt that I could not cope with the media attention any more and I seriously thought about jumping in front of a train.”
Gascoigne said he believed that information about his relationship with his ex-wife Sheryl, in particular his calls to her, including his threats of suicide, came about through voicemail interception.
“This is highly sensitive and private information which I believe did not come from Sheryl. To see it splashed over a newspaper was both humiliating and deeply distressing.”
He said that the level of surveillance he was under, including being followed by private investigators, made him feel sick.
“Whilst it is well-known that I have an alcohol problem, it is not illegal for me to drink alcohol. I believe that it is none of Mirror Group’s business if I was or wasn’t drinking.
“They shouldn’t have been employing people to secretly follow me - and my friends and family that I met with at that time - and photograph me.
“Obviously, if I choose to go to a public bar or restaurant then I might be recognised by other people, but that is completely different from being deliberately followed and secretly photographed by Mirror Group.
“Just because I am well-known does not mean that I’m no longer entitled to a private life, even when I am doing things in public. I must be allowed to have some privacy even when I’m not in my own home. I can’t spend my life locked away indoors.”
He said that, in early 2006, his suspicions caused him to spend £80,000 on counter-surveillance equipment.
Gascoigne said that he blamed his family for what he thought were leaks and did not speak to them for almost two years - refusing to go for Christmas with them - because he thought they had betrayed him.
“It is very sad to me that a lot of damage has already been done to my family that cannot easily be fixed. My apologising to them now cannot turn back the clock for things I have said to them, and the hurt that this has caused.”
The stories caused very serious rows with his former wife, Sheryl, as every time she visited The Priory, the press and photographers were there.
“I do not believe for one moment that Sheryl would have told the press about my going into treatment because it was so important to both of us and our families that I got better.”
He also fell out with his life-long friend, James “Jimmy Five Bellies” Gardner.
“I now believe that I was totally wrong to blame Jimmy and that he has in fact been an incredibly loyal friend to me over the years.”
Actress Lucy Taggart followed Gascoigne into the witness box and described the effect publication of a string of articles had on her.
Her voice breaking she said: “With each one I always felt like I had to pick myself up and dust myself off and carry on.
“But on the following day or following week there would be another article about something else and it felt like I was being punched and battered and bruised.
“It felt I was in a boxing ring without any gloves.”
She said she still daily questioned what “I did to deserve the amount of hacking that took place and the articles that were printed”
She added:”It still feels incredibly raw as if it was only yesterday.”
The other cases involved in the litigation are those of TV executive Alan Yentob, actress Sadie Frost, soap stars Shobna Gulati and Shane Richie, flight attendant Lauren Alcorn and TV producer Robert Ashworth.
In her witness statement, Taggart said that when the most private aspects of her life were all over the group’s newspapers, she would cry a lot and felt “hunted”.
“I felt like there were photographers hiding behind trees and behind walls waiting to get a shot of me everywhere I went. Every time I went to a newsagent, I felt a knot in my stomach and was scared to look at these newspapers.”
She was embarrassed to face her bosses at work as she felt she was being portrayed in the press as “either a wild party animal or an emotionally unstable girl”.
“I was very sensitive to the fact that I was being seen as a troublesome being,” she said.
Her relationships with those closest to her became messy and complicated and her mother was particularly affected by the stories.
“As soon as I heard about phone hacking on the news, I knew it was the Mirror that had done it. The Mirror were the worst culprit as far as I was concerned. The Mirror wrote the dirtiest stories and I always felt like the articles were a personal attack.”
She added: “I feel like the people who worked at the paper were sadistic and their mission was to destroy people’s lives.”
She believed that Mirror Group had “slaughtered” her over the seven years she was targeted. The extent of the intrusion and the admitted 17 articles it produced was “nothing short of psychological abuse”.
She added: “It’s not just about money, I don’t want it being swept under the carpet any more. There was a terrible image of me and I was not that person.”
She said: “Looking back at my life, I really think that things could have gone very differently for me if the press had not been interfering with my private life. I am a different person now than I would have been, much less trusting and more suspicious, which is sad.”
The hearing continues tomorrow when the court will hear from former MGN journalist Dan Evans. Actress Sadie Frost is expected to give evidence either tomorrow or Friday.