Hugh Grant’s two witness statements to the Leveson Inquiry documented at length his suffering at the hands of the press, described in fresh detail the hounding of Tinglan Hong, the mother of his daughter, and was an impassioned plea for a reformed press.
Distinguishing between a “good press” that serves the public interest and “a second press that has been allowed to become something toxic”, and which depends “no longer on journalism (as it did once), but racketeering”, the actor said that he had learned from bitter experience that confronting the press was futile. “I was always a victor in the short run, but a loser in the long run”, he said.
The 51-year-old said he is now speaking out because the phone-hacking scandal has raised hopes of reform, and because of the intimidation that Hong has endured over the past few months.
His testimony directly imitated the structure of that given by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre – a particular object of Grant’s scorn – in setting out a series of myths about press freedom which he debunks. These included the ‘myths’ that only politicians and celebrities suffer at the hands of popular papers; that “egregious abuses of privacy” were restricted to the News of the World; that the Human Rights Act muzzles the press; that judges always find against the press; that privacy is a rich man’s toy; that celebrities like him court press attention; and that any attempt to regulate the press means “we are heading for Zimbabwe” – a rebuttal to Dacre, who said as much last month.
Grant gave a fascinating insight into his treatment of the press over the past two decades, which followed after he was “very lucky with one film”. He described how tabloid newspapers would describe innocuous phone calls from Los Angeles as secretive because they came at night – but in fact did so for the plain reason that “LA is eight hours behind”.
He told the inquiry that a former girlfriend had to move house because of the bullying endured by her 6 year-old son, on account of her mother’s relationship with a film star. He added that every attempt to complain to papers for libel that he has made has been successful.
Grant singled out the Daily Mail several times. At one point, he repeated the claim by Paul McMullan, a former News of the World executive, that “the biggest payers for hacking in the past were the Daily Mail”. In his testimony regarding Hong’s experience, he said “Much of the Daily Mail reporting has been by Keith Gladdis”, a journalist who worked at the News of the World until July. “The Mail appears [with Gladdis]… to be picking up where the disgraced News of the World left off.”
Grant also condemned Amanda Platell, the Daily Mail columnist, saying that “in the space of one 1300 word piece, based largely on misreportings… she accused me of being lonely, bitter, oleaginous, misogynistic, self-obsessed, irresponsible, insensitive, uncaring, and in ‘tawdry, inexorable’ decline”.
The actor, who described himself as a supporter of press freedom, said that self-regulation of the press has been a failure. He has been pushing for better regulation through the auspices of the “Hacked Off” campaign.