Hugh Grant, girl's parents make new hacking claims

21st November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Actor Hugh Grant launched a stinging attack on Britain's tabloids Monday, telling an inquiry that phone hacking was used by a non-Rupert Murdoch paper and that a burglary at his flat led to stories.

On a dramatic first day of evidence in Britain's phone-hacking probe, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler also said Murdoch's News of the World gave them false hope that she was alive by deleting some of her messages.

Grant, best known for his comic roles in films like "Notting Hill," accused the Mail on Sunday newspaper of running a false story on his relationship with socialite Jemima Khan in 2007 that he believed had been obtained by hacking.

In a bravura performance before the judge-led inquiry, which was televised live, Grant urged Britons to stand up to the "cowardly" behaviour of what he called the "privacy-invasion industry."

"Most shocking is that this has been allowed to go on for so long with no one putting their hand up and saying stop," he said, accusing newspaper barons of intimidating the police, lawmakers and government.

The 51-year-old by turns delivered quips that would not have been out of place in his movies; became testy with the line of questioning by the lawyer for the inquiry; and delivered impassioned criticism of the tabloid press.

His allegation against the Mail on Sunday, owned by the UK's Associated Newspapers group, was the second time the inquiry has heard that Murdoch's News of the World was not the only newspaper involved in phone hacking.

Grant said the story -- for which he later won a libel payout -- claimed his relationship with Khan was on the rocks and he was having late-night telephone chats with a "plummy voiced studio executive", but was false.

"I'd love to hear what their source was if it wasn't phone hacking," he said, while admitting that he had no firm evidence for the allegation.

Grant also accused another tabloid, the Daily Mirror, owned by Trinity Mirror, of accessing his medical records.

A lawyer for the inquiry said last week that the Mirror was listed in notebooks seized by police from private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for phone hacking for the News of the World.

Grant, wearing a dark suit, light blue shirt and navy blue tie, added that he was suspicious after a break-in at his flat in London in 1995, shortly after he was arrested in Los Angeles with a prostitute.

Nothing was stolen in the burglary, but a full description of the contents of the property later appeared in a newspaper, he said, adding that he believed the details could have come from the burglar, the police, or both.

He added that he was wary of calling the police because "the chances are that a photographer or reporter would turn up on your doorstep before a policeman".

Grant also complained of press harassment of the mother of his first child, Chinese actress Hong Tinglan, who was recently granted a High Court injunction prohibiting harassment of her and the baby.

Prime Minister David Cameron launched the inquiry into the ethics of Britain's press in July after long-simmering claims about the News of the World boiled over with the revelations that Milly Dowler's voicemails were hacked.

Murdoch closed the News of the World and suffered the resignation of some key lieutenants, while two of Britain's top policemen were forced out of their jobs over alleged ties to his empire.

Milly's parents Sally and Bob Dowler testified in the morning, with her mother describing how they repeatedly checked the 13-year-old's voicemails after she vanished in 2002, but her inbox was full and went straight to an automated message.

Her voice rising with emotion, Sally Dowler said that one day she rang "and it went on to her voicemail. So I heard her voice, and it was just like I jumped, 'She's picked up her voicemails Bob, she's alive!'"

In fact, as well as listening to Milly's voicemails, Mulcaire the investigator had erased some messages to make room for new ones.

Mulcaire was jailed along with the News of the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on phones belonging to royal aides.

Police did not tell the Dowlers about the hacking until just before the trial of British serial killer Levi Bellfield, who was convicted of Milly's murder in June.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry will hear this week from other alleged victims of media intrusion, including actress Sienna Miller, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Gerry McCann, the father of the missing girl Madeleine McCann.

© 2011 AFP

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