Associated lawyer questioned over Hugh Grant "smear"

Associated Newspapers’ legal chief was questioned at the Leveson Inquiry today over the company’s statement accusing Hugh Grant of making “mendacious smears” against the paper.

Liz Hartley said Grant has used speculation “to accuse our group of phone hacking, which is a very serious allegation. We respond by defending ourselves.”

“And you’re responding by accusing him of perjury,” Lord Justice Leveson responded.

During his November testimony, Hugh Grant spoke of a 2007 story in the Mail on Sunday 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”.

Associated Newspapers, the Mail’s publisher, responded with a statement accusing Grant of making “mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media”. Hartley also revealed today that editor Paul Dacre, due to appear at the Inquiry next month, helped to draft the statement.

Victims’ lawyer David Sherborne suggested to Leveson this afternoon that the journalists responsible should give evidence under oath on 6 February to establish the source of the article.

Associated Newspapers has consistently denied that any of its staff were involved in phone hacking.

The Mail’s recent coverage of Grant, namely the birth of his daughter, was also a topic of discussion. Hartley denied that details regarding the birth had been obtained from a hospital source, asserting that the source came from Grant’s “celebrity circle” of friends.

She noted the difficulty of reporters establishing facts in the story, suggesting the real solution to this would have been for Grant’s publicists to say they would prefer the media to “desist”.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from Daily Express publisher Northern & Shell.

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