When an individual known only as ‘HJK’ gave anonymous evidence to the Leveson Inquiry last year, many people speculated over who it was. As it turned out it was not a cautious film star or politician but an ordinary member of the public, caught up in the hacking scandal after going out on a few dates with an unidentified celebrity.
Outside of the inquiry, HJK has never spoken publicly about their story. They have agreed to this interview with Hacked Off on the understanding their identity remain secret.
In 2006, HJK’s mobile network informed them their voicemail account security had been compromised. It was eventually discovered Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working for the News of the World, had transcripts of messages between HJK and the celebrity, HJK’s address, mobile and work phone numbers and a note of the text and call traffic between the pair. It is likely the intrusion carried on for some time after HJK had been notified. A phone hacking case against News Group and Mulcaire was settled in January when HJK accepted £60,000 damages plus legal costs. HJK maintains the police left them defenceless when officers were contacted several times and failed to respond.
This month a judicial review forced the Metropolitan Police to admit having acted unlawfully by not informing phone hacking victims that their privacy had been breached. The claim against them was brought last year by five prominent victims; Chris Bryant MP, Lord Prescott, Ben Jackson, the assistant of actor Jude Law, former Met deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick, and HJK. HJK calls the judicial review “the victory of the Five Musketeers”.
HJK tells Hacked Off: “It’s a fantastic victory for privacy in this country. We had nothing to gain, we just wanted to hold the police accountable, and we did. Back in 2006 I was probably more annoyed, vocal and disappointed by the police than I was by the press.”
HJK decided to tell their story to the Leveson Inquiry and the judge handed down an order in November 2011 preventing their identity from being revealed. The press and public were kept out of the courtroom when HJK arrived to give evidence. A transcript and written statement were later released but the hearing itself was not broadcast. Later that day actress Sienna Miller and Harry Potter author JK Rowling had their turn in the witness box. Miller faced a barrage of paparazzi photographers at the Bell Yard entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice. As HJK had done, Rowling chose to enter the building through a side door.
HJK says: “I think people thought I might be some sort of celebrity who was appearing that day and didn’t want to disclose [who they were]. Me having testified under oath that I was an ordinary person calmed down the interest, because frankly there isn’t much of an interest to be had in this story.
“It was a pretty common story: a couple of dates with a celebrity and a nightmarish situation of me being caught in the crossfire of it. I was always of the opinion that the biggest story was not me having a couple of dates with a celebrity but the crimes that the press committed in order to get a tittle-tattle story.”
In early 2006, HJK met someone they refer to as “my celebrity friend” while doing voluntary work, and the pair went out on a few dates. That April, someone called HJK claiming to be from Royal Mail, saying they were trying to deliver a parcel with a torn label. HJK says the caller sounded overly happy when the address was handed over. A journalist turned up on the doorstep a week later to say their paper were aware of the relationship, and later called to offer money for the story. When HJK told the celebrity what had happened, the friendship cooled.
HJK says: “Because I didn’t speak to the press they must have thought there was more to [the friendship with the celebrity] because I wasn’t doing a kiss-and-tell.
“So they kept on digging and they kept harassing me. That lasted for around nine months.”
After being told by a journalist the story was going to be published imminently, HJK told their boss about the friendship. He was unsympathetic. Problems at work escalated when HJK missed important voicemail messages from a client. They had already been listened to and stored.
HJK says the situation led to bullying in the workplace: “It was a nightmare.”
After finding out the voicemail could have been hacked, HJK spotted another reporter across the road from their house when jogging in October 2006. In December HJK was photographed with a family member at a train station. When HJK looked behind to see what the photographer was shooting, they realised it was them. “There was nobody behind us. It was very clear that I was being harassed.”
“I started living behind closed curtains. I was in jail because I didn’t know when they were looking in, when they were not looking.”
Even though a story was never published, HJK resigned and left the country, believing the press was never going to leave them alone. During this period of isolation and paranoia, and like many other phone hacking victims, HJK had accused friends of leaking information to the press.
HJK says: “Eventually I didn’t trust anybody. It took me a couple of months to recuperate; the stress levels were so intense. Even when I was meeting people in bars I was so suspicious. I was thinking ‘are they a part of this, are they not part of it’. It made my life hell.
“I’d been a victim and knew it was criminal – along with the destruction of my life – for six long years I was not able to say to someone ‘you did this to me, and you know what, you’re going to pay for your crimes’. It was making me incredibly angry.”
HJK believes journalists could have accessed further sensitive personal information. They are keen to protect their anonymity to prevent disclosure of private details and keep the identity of the celebrity friend a secret.
“I wanted to protect the anonymity of that celebrity who has a right to not have a story being published through me going through that legal process. I do not want to appear that I am profiting or benefiting from this in anyway shape or form by doing a kiss-and-tell delayed in time but at the same time I wanted to give the full information to the court so they know exactly what happened.”
Lord Justice Leveson was provided with a confidential annex to HJK’s evidence disclosing further details that will never be released into the public domain. HJK says compiling the evidence with lawyers was a draining experience that left them shaken for several days.
“It was stressful because it made me live through a year of my life which was very painful but I think it made me realise a lot of things, my isolation at the time, the fact that I started trusting less and less people – and I haven’t let a lot of people very close to me in the six years since it happened.”
The chance to tell the story at the Leveson Inquiry was crucially important to HJK. “There was a very therapeutic moment for me when I walked out of the inquiry,” they say. “I’d never had the possibility of facing these journalists and these newspapers, and the two that were involved were in the room. It was fantastic to think ‘I’ve held these people to account’. That was very important to me, always was.”
HJK explains how the intrusion has deeply affected their life. Whenever a stranger approaches the celebrity friend when the pair go out in public (HJK and the celebrity are still friends to this day despite the ordeal) HJK immediately thinks it could be a journalist and panics. “I don’t know how to handle it.”
“Three years ago I went on a date with someone else. The person said to me afterwards ‘You started firing questions at me like a police officer, like “remind me who you work for”.’ It was just weird. My behaviour has obviously been deeply marked by this. It affects you to a degree that an ordinary person cannot understand.”
Although HJK feels vindicated by the Leveson appearance, they are still incredibly angry over how the Met handled the case and for a while lost trust in the police completely. They believe the intrusion would have stopped a lot sooner if information had been handed over at the time of the hacking.
“It felt a bit like my neighbours had told me my house was being burgled, I’d called the police and they’d said to me ‘Yes we know, we’ve got a police officer at your house and he’s right now helping the thieves to help themselves to your furniture and loading it into their van’. The collusion and closeness between the Metropolitan Police and the press was something that really got to me. One of the things that I hope will come out of the Leveson Inquiry is that you can’t have media groups which have so much power, that’s very dangerous.”
Despite wanting to protect their anonymity and personal details, HJK says they were compelled to take action after hearing former News of the World editor Andy Coulson had been appointed as a government advisor – “If the Prime Minister had spat in my face I think it would have been less humiliating” – and that Mulcaire had taken a literary agent. “When I heard that he was about to write a book that was it. I thought ‘this is where I draw the line’.”
HJK was also disgusted by comments from John Yates, assistant commissioner of the Met, in 2009. Yates was asked to review the original phone hacking investigation into the activities of Mulcaire and journalist Clive Goodman, following allegations printed in the Guardian. He found the investigation to be “satisfactory” and suggested no further action be taken. He resigned following the escalation of the scandal last year.
For HJK the chance to tell their story to the inquiry, the success of the judicial review against the police and the victory in the civil claim against News International means a line can be drawn under the past six years, the consequences of which have been deep and far reaching.
“In 2006 I was very angry that the press could dive into my life that much and that it lasted that long. I was a means to an end for them. It was a series of hit-and-runs, that’s how I felt.
“The handful of dates that celebrity had with me is definitely not in the public interest and it certainly didn’t justify the violation, harassment and surveillance that I was a victim of.
“If my case could show people an ordinary person can seek redress, and can obtain compensation and can hold the police accountable, then it’s been worth it. Maybe it will inspire people suffering in silence to come forward as well.”
Note: At the request of HJK, Hacked Off would like to make it clear we have formally undertaken not to reveal their identity, gender or personal details.