- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LONDON (AP) - Elle Macpherson fired her business adviser for leaking secrets when journalists were actually getting juicy details about the supermodel by hacking into her phone, the former aide told a British inquiry into media ethics Tuesday.

In testimony that illuminated the human costs of the illegal practice, Mary-Ellen Field described how she lost both her job for Macpherson and one at an advisory firm because of the unfounded suspicions _ a double-blow that was all the more serious because she was in poor health.

“It had a very serious effect,” she told the inquiry. “I had become ill and was falling down all the time.” She didn’t identify her illness.

Field was one of several victims of press intrusion testifying Tuesday at Britain’s Royal Courts of Justice. The inquiry, headed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron after the scandal over phone hacking and other underhanded tactics used at the News of the World, which was closed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch in July amid allegations of widespread criminality.

The inquiry plans to issue a report next year and could recommend major changes to the way the media in Britain are regulated. It has already heard several alarming tales of media abuse.

Field, with a friendly and open demeanor that showed no traces of bitterness toward the press or her former boss, said her relationship with Macpherson was once close, but it fell apart after the model’s intimate secrets began appearing in the press in 2005. Macpherson became convinced that Field, a fellow Australian, was an alcoholic and ordered her to go to an American rehabilitation clinic.

Field said she was shocked by the allegations she was a drunk who’d been blabbing about her employer, but went along with Macpherson’s recommendation because she needed her job.

“I have a severely disabled child who can never look after himself, so walking away from a high-paying position is not a good idea,” Field said.

The rehab was grueling _ she described it as being “like one of those CIA renditions, except they don’t put you in chains” _ but it didn’t help the situation.

Even though staff at the clinic said Field was not an alcoholic, Macpherson fired her anyway, and Field lost her job at her firm shortly afterward. She told the inquiry there was no doubt the sacking was the result of what happened with Macpherson.

Although it has since emerged that the media leaks were the result of phone hacking by the News of the World tabloid, not any indiscretions, Field said she has not heard from Macpherson in years. Macpherson’s office did not respond to emails sent by The Associated Press seeking comment.

She was the first in a daylong parade of witnesses chronicling media misdeeds.

Soccer player Garry Flitcroft told of his family’s harassment by the media after the failure of a judicial bid to block news of his extramarital affair, saying that at one point journalists used a helicopter to track his movements.

Flitcroft said journalists “wanted to make a statement to me: ‘Never take on the press again.’”

British comedian Steve Coogan claimed in his testimony that he was warned in 2002 that Andy Coulson _ then deputy editor of News of the World _ would be listening in on a phone conversation Coogan had with a woman in a bid to trick him into making indiscreet comments. Coulson later went on to become Cameron’s top media adviser, but he lost that job when he became embroiled in the scandal.

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