Footballer Paul Gascoigne tells court hacking 'ruined my life'

LONDON (AFP) - Paul Gascoigne on Wednesday told the High Court in London that phone hacking by a newspaper group had driven the former England football star to alcoholism and destroyed his life.

Gascoigne, 47, said he was afraid to speak to his family, lost friends he thought were betraying him and spent £80,000 (S$167,000) on counter-surveillance equipment.

"I would like to trade my mobile phone in for a coffin because these guys have ruined my life. I have no life," the former Tottenham and Lazio midfielder said.

A series of high-profile figures are giving evidence at the High Court as it determines what compensation should be paid by Mirror Group Newspapers to people whose voicemail was intercepted by its journalists.

MGN publishes the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People national tabloids, the chief competitors to media baron Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid stable.

"I knew I was getting hacked by the Mirror. This continued for ages," Gascoigne told the court.

"I changed my mobile. It happened again so I kept on changing mobiles, five or six times a month."

Gascoigne, who is complaining about 18 articles - all accepted to have been the product of illegal activity - said: "I was scared to speak to anybody... my parents, my family and kids, it was just horrendous.

"And people can't understand why I became an alcoholic."

The 1990 World Cup star's evidence was not challenged by MGN's lawyer.

In a written statement to the court, Gascoigne said he did not speak to his family for almost two years and refused to spend Christmas with them because he thought they had betrayed him by leaking private information.

"It is very sad to me that a lot of damage has already been done to my family that cannot easily be fixed," he said.

Last month, the Daily Mirror printed an apology, accepting voicemails had been "illegally accessed" in the past, with the information obtained used in stories.

Murdoch shut the News of the World in 2011 as public and political outrage exploded at revelations of phone-hacking at the Sunday tabloid.

The scandal sparked a press ethics inquiry and a mammoth police probe which has seen journalists jailed.

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