Hugh Grant accuses Mail on Sunday of phone hacking

Actor Hugh Grant linked the Mail on Sunday to phone hacking today as he and other witnesses gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, starting what is set to be a week-long attack on the practices of the tabloid press.

In his marathon account, he spoke of a 2007 story in the paper that claimed his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks due to his late night calls with a “plummy voiced” studio executive. Grant said the only way the paper could have sourced the story was through accessing his voicemail, and that he “would love to hear what their source was if it wasn’t phone hacking.”

He also told the Inquiry about a chance encounter with Paul McMullen, former features editor at the News of the World, who “boasted” about hacking at the paper.

A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said this afternoon: “Mr Grant’s allegations are mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media.” Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Mail, has consistently denied that any of its staff were involved with hacking.

Grant went into detail about a slew of other incidents. He noted how he and his girlfriends had been “chased at speed” by papparazzi, the Sun and Daily Express had invaded his privacy by publishing details of his medical records, and that the life of the mother of his newborn baby had “been made hell” due to press intrusion. He also alleged that the Daily Mail paid £125,000 to the ex-lover of the child’s mother for photos of her.

Grant said the “licence the tabloid press has had to steal British citizens’ privacy for profit” was a “scandal that weak governments for too long have allowed to pass.”

In their brief but raw account this morning, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler spoke of the moment they believed their daughter was picking up and deleting her voicemail messages. Sally Dowler said, “it clicked through on to her voicemail so I heard her voice and [said] ‘she’s picked up her voicemail Bob! She’s alive!’.”

Milly’s voicemail had been hacked into and her messages deleted, making room for new ones to be left. Sally Dowler said she did not sleep for three nights when she was told of the interception this year.

The Dowlers also described a walk they took seven weeks after their daughter had gone missing to retrace her steps, a photo of which was featured in the News of the World. The Dowlers believed it was a result of photographers being tipped off after their own phones had been hacked. “How did they know we would be doing that walk on that day,” Sally Dowler asked. She called the photo an “intrusion” into the family’s private moment of grief.

Of the press attention that followed Milly’s disappearance, Sally added that the family had to “train” themselves not to answer questions. “Someone would come up to you when you least expect[ed] it,” she said.

The Dowlers added that the press had been a “double-edged sword”, noting the efforts made by the papers to spread information about Milly’s disappearance.

They said they would leave it to the Inquiry to make decisions, but wanted the extent of hacking to be exposed. Bob Dowler said he hoped News International and other media organisations would “look very carefully” at how they procure information for stories. “Obviously the ramifications are very much greater than just an obvious story in the press,” he added.

Journalist Joan Smith also gave evidence. She discovered her phone had been hacked around six weeks after the daughter of her partner, Labour MP Denis MacShane, had been killed in a skydiving accident in 2004. She revealed that detectives had shown her notes taken by Glenn Mulcaire earlier this year, which listed her name, address and phone numbers.

She attacked tabloid culture as “so remorseless” that those involved have “lost any sense that they’re dealing with human beings.”

She said she did not consider herself a celebrity. “You don’t have to be incredibly famous to be a target for their intrusion,” she said, adding later that the press interest in her came from her relationship with MacShane.

Smith was keen to defend freedom of expression, noting that she opposed state regulation and the licensing of journalists. She added that there needed to be a “successor body to PCC (Press Complaints Commission) that isn’t dominated by editors.”

Media lawyer Graham Shear also attacked the redtops, calling the industry a “business model which has become dependent on titillating and sensationalist stories.”

He said his clients began to suspect they were under surveillance in 2004, when “stray facts” known to few began to appear in the press. Several would clients would change their mobile telephone numbers two or three times a year, he added.

He spoke of “orchestrated” attempts to persuade clients to pay off kiss and tell girls, and noted the reluctance of press to contact him and his clients prior to publishing, preferring to pay any damages for breaches of privacy afterwards. He also described the £60,000 in damages paid by the News of the World to Formula 1 boss Max Mosley for privacy invasion as a “very gentle parking fine”.

The hearing continues tomorrow, with evidence from Steve Coogan, Elle Macpherson’s former business adviser Mary-Ellen Field, ex-footballer Garry Flitcroft, and Margaret Watson, mother of murder victim Diane Watson.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.