Film star Grant goes to war with the 'privacy invasion industry'
Actor gives two hours of evidence at inquiry
HUGH Grant tried to implicate the 'Mail on Sunday' in the phone-hacking row yesterday by accusing the newspaper of illegally accessing his voicemails.
The actor used the legal protection of qualified privilege, which covers testimony made under oath, at the Leveson Inquiry, to claim for the first time that the tabloid had been involved in the illegal practice that led to the closure of the 'News of the World.'
But Mr Grant was forced to admit he had no direct evidence to support his claims, which were dismissed by the 'Mail on Sunday' as "mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media".
During two hours of evidence to the inquiry, sitting at the High Court in London, Mr Grant made several other new and startling claims about tabloid journalists' methods. He suggested his flat had been burgled by someone working for a newspaper and that a third of the Metropolitan Police were taking "backhanders" from tabloid press.
Mr Grant (51) made no attempt to conceal his loathing of tabloids, which he characterised as the "privacy invasion industry". He was so eager to air grievances against individual journalists that he lost his patience when Robert Jay, counsel to the inquiry, tried to rein him in. Mr Grant told him: "I thought this inquiry was about controversy."
When Mr Jay said he did not want to air a document because it named "particular names", Mr Grant retorted: "So?"
He said that in February 2007 the 'Mail on Sunday 'ran an article claiming that his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks "because of my persistent late-night flirtatious phone calls with a plummy-voiced female executive of Warner Studios".
He said the story was not only untrue but "bizarre" and the "penny dropped" when he realised that an assistant at a production company associated with Warner who "had a voice that can only be described as plummy" often phoned him to leave work-related messages.
He added: "I cannot think of any conceivable source (for the story) apart from the messages on my phone."
When Mr Jay suggested there could be other explanations, Mr Grant said: "I'd love to hear what the Sunday Mail's source for that story was if it wasn't phone hacking."
The 'Mail on Sunday' immediately issued a statement denying the allegation, and said: "In the case of the story Mr Grant refers to the information came from a freelance journalist who had been told by a source who was regularly speaking to Jemima Khan."
Mr Grant said the 'Daily Mail' had been the first newspaper to contact him when his former girlfriend, Tinglan Hong, gave birth to his daughter in September, which made him suspect that either the newspaper or a freelance agency was paying hospital staff for tip-offs.
He conceded that he had no direct evidence of this, and agreed that the 'Daily Mail' had not published the story until it had appeared in a magazine in the United States.
A spokesman for the 'Daily Mail' later said the information had come from "a source in his showbusiness circle more than two weeks after the birth".
Mr Grant said that last year, after a chance encounter with Paul McMullan, a former executive at the 'News of the World', that Mr McMullan had "boasted about how extensive phone hacking had been at the 'News of the World'" and told him that Andy Coulson, the newspaper's former editor, knew "for sure" his journalists were involved in phone hacking.
Mr McMullan had also told him that "a third of the Metropolitan Police were on backhanders from the tabloid press".
Mr Grant insisted that his highly publicised arrest in Los Angeles in 1995 for lewd conduct in a public place with a prostitute was not the root cause of his enmity towards the tabloid press.
He had "no quarrel" with the way the story was covered, but disclosed that "at the zenith" of the story his fourth-floor flat in London was broken into, the only time it had been burgled in the 25 years he had owned it.
"Nothing was stolen, which was weird," he said. "The police came round to talk about it and the day after that a detailed account of what the interior of my flat looked like appeared in a British tabloid paper.
"I remember thinking, 'Who told them that? Was it the burglar or was it the police?'"
He agreed that the burglar might have been "acting on the instructions of the press".
When Mr Jay challenged Mr Grant about whether he had evidence to back up some of his claims, he took exception, saying: "You told me backstage that you were going to bowl me straight balls. If these are straight balls I'd hate to see your googlies."
Mr Grant suggested newspapers ran stories about celebrities' private lives using the "flimsy" defence that it was in the public interest to expose hypocrisy of people who traded on their good name.
Asked if he thought he fell into that category, he said: "I wasn't aware that I had a good name. I've never had a good name. I was the man who was arrested with a prostitute."
The inquiry continues and the comedian Steve Coogan will be among today's witnesses. (© Daily Telegraph, London)