- TV star is taking on Rupert Murdoch, CEO Rebekah Brooks and ex-reporter Mazher Mahmood.
- Alford’s case is due to be heard later this year at the High Court.
- The former London’s Burning actor is suing the News of the World and The Sun for allegedly hacking his phones.
- The papers also blagged his medical records, lawyers claim.
- But in an exclusive interview, he reveals that his spirit is far from broken, despite waiting nearly a quarter of a century for a chance to get justice.
By Florence Wildblood and Graham Johnson
FORMER TV HEARTTHROB John Alford is leading a war against the world’s most powerful news baron.
The ex-London’s Burning star is crowdfunding a High Court battle that he says will expose further corruption at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper empire.
The phone hacking scandal has already cost News Group Newspapers an estimated £1 billion.
But Alford is determined to unravel further alleged failings of the company’s top executives, such as Rebekah Brooks, who was cleared of phone hacking in 2014.
Alford said: “Rupert Murdoch’s will rue the day he came for me.”
The former Grange Hill actor’s career was ruined in 1997 when he was set up by the News of the World.
Today, he tells Byline Investigates why he’s finally suing News Group for unlawful intrusion.
Alford was in his mid-twenties, and fresh out of the popular ITV series London’s Burning.
He’d been playing a fireman called Billy Ray in the top-rated series for four years.
Before that, he’d become a household name for millions of school children, playing the kind-hearted London comp kid Robbie Wright over six series of the school soap opera Grange Hill.
In the summer of 1997, his agent received a string of calls about a potentially life-changing deal.
Keen to make his mark as a live performer – following the hit singles “Smoke gets in your Eyes” and “Blue Moon” the year before – and make international contacts, Alford eventually became close to the mystery man whose representatives were at the other end of the phone.
His Royal Highness Mohammed Al-Kareen invited Alford to a five-star hotel suite, flashing his Rolex as he promised Hollywood acting deals.
The icing on the cake was the offer of public appearances at newly opened hotels in the Middle East.
This was incredibly exciting for Alford who, like so many TV actors and soap stars of that era, was breaking out into pop music and recording contracts.
“Maybe it was too good to be true,” says Alford, who is now a dad-of-four, including – most recently – twin boys.
“But there’s a lot about the prospect of international fame as a young guy, that’s too good to be true.”
One day, His Royal Highness persuaded Alford, several drinks down, to procure him and his entourage a bit of cocaine for the night.
Alford has never denied dabbling in drugs, but was far too busy with his established career in showbiz to be a dealer.
Under pressure from his new and well-connected mates, he got his hands on a couple of grams of cocaine and passed it on.
The problem was that his new mates weren’t who they seemed.
Alford had been duped and manipulated by Mazher Mahmood, now known as the Fake Sheikh, and a team of private investigators hired by the News of the World.
In the paper’s Wapping HQ, the dark humour of the newsroom had christened Mahmood with a different name.
To his news editor Greg Miskiw, he was known as Sheikh Uve Bin Ad, a reference to his uncanny ability to turn his victims over, often luring them to say shocking, out-of-character things on tape.
Alford’s incident was recorded on video bags equipped with spy-hole cameras, which were also installed in various fixtures and fittings in the expensive hotel room.
In August 1997, the News of the World ran a front page story and a double-paged spread headlined, “London’s Burning Star is a Cocaine Dealer,” and “Blue Watch Hero Caught Red Handed.”
The paper had got its story; and the victim of the sting got an unexpected term in prison.
On 24 May 1999, he was found guilty by a jury at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court of one count of supplying 2.036 grammes of cocaine and a similar charge involving 11.9 grammes of cannabis resin, and sentenced to nine months in Pentonville Prison.
For Alford – though he failed to put two and two together at the critical point – this was the culmination of sustained targeting by the tabloid.
“They hacked and blagged me, and my friends and my family,” he explained. “They were very vindictive. And they didn’t stop.
“Sending me to prison wasn’t enough for them – they kept writing stories about me which now I suspect were based on phone hacking and illegal inquiries by private investigators.”
Alford maintains he is the victim of a prolonged period of intimidation by the paper.
“It was a form of bullying,” he said. “It was sustained and sinister and I felt like I was being threatened all the time. It was being pushed around by villains….”
At the time, he argued that he was entrapped and, and committed to seeing justice restored, he’s been joining more and more dots ever since.
“I issued my first Particulars of Claim more than 20 years ago, and I was wrongly advised by many people (lawyers) not to sue them, to get on with my life.”
“So, I got on with my life, and was just plugging along as normal.
“And then years later Mazher Mahmood obviously got arrested, and my evidence became pertinent.
“I started giving all the evidence I had to various solicitors, and hey-ho, it’s cost them – NGN and Murdoch and his papers – a lot of money and my information has helped get justice.
“I’m so pleased it’s been used to help so many people, who fell victim to the same tactics.”
Mahmood’s downfall finally came when he played a similar trick on N-Dubz singer and X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos.
But this time, it was the News of the World’s Investigations Editor who was sent to prison for 14 months for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
“Back when Mazher Mahmood was sentenced to prison, I gave a speech outside the Old Bailey, pleading for the government to go ahead with Leveson Part Two,” continues Alford.
Leveson Two was due to be the follow-up to the first public inquiry into press ethics, which came out of the phone hacking scandal and the closure of the News of The World in 2011.
“Well, they didn’t – Leveson Two was cancelled because they sent Matt Hancock in to scupper it,” Alford adds.
“Back then, Hancock was the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
“Of course, now he is best known as the Health Secretary.
“But either way, some of the evidence that they thought they buried, by burying Leveson 2, will be heard in the High Court when I sue them.
“Because I’m going all the way – I’m going to trial.
“And the reason I’m going to trial is because I’m not letting them bully their way, and pay people so that they can get away with their criminal allegations.”
This year, Alford is suing the News Group Newspapers and he says he will name executives, including Rebekah Brooks and others, in his bombshell case – for the alleged misuse of private information and unlawful intrusion.
Brooks was cleared of phone hacking in 2014 at the Old Bailey. NGN have denied or not admitted unlawful information gathering at the High Court.
He’ll be supported by press reform campaigners Hacked Off and and is currently running a public crowdfunding campaign for his legal costs.
Alford has counted on the public since the beginning.
“They know what they [the News of the World] were like; they know I wasn’t a drug-dealer, but I was tarred with that brush and it affected my career.
“Since day one, even twenty years ago, from the postman to the local bobby to the builder, I always got so much support because my character was really well-liked. Real people know the truth.”
He’s immensely thankful for their help.
“And I’m just so glad that Hacked Off is taking up the fight now, and to Byline Investigates for reporting it, because for years and years nobody would come on-side with me because of Murdoch,” Alford adds.
“When Murdoch goes after you, it’s a frightening thing – don’t get me wrong. He’s an intimidating man. But I don’t like bullies – that’s all it is. I’ve never liked bullies; I always stand up to bullies, and I always will do.”
Ahead of the trial, scheduled for winter this year, Alford is feeling very confident. And with good reason.
In David Sherborne, he’s got the same barrister as Prince Harry. He’s also not alone, thanks to a ‘rebel alliance’ of committed supporters from the world of celebrity, journalism and politics.
“We’re all fighting the same battle,” Alford says.
“Murdoch has his antennae in everything in our country. He’s caused so much division.
“The only way they can be held to account is if we take them to trial. That’s why we need the people to get behind it, because this is about our democracy, it’s not just about me.”