The Harry Potter author JK Rowling yesterday described how sustained newspaper scrutiny of her private life had made her vulnerable to "unbalanced individuals" by repeatedly publishing information which identified her home.
Ms Rowling told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that she had taken action against publications about 50 times over alleged breaches of privacy and misreporting as part of a 12-year running battle with newspapers which she said had included being driven out the first house she owned because of the constant presence of photographers.
In rare and candid testimony about the unwanted effects of the global fame generated by the success of the Harry Potter novels, which have reputedly made her a dollar billionaire, the author repeatedly highlighted the photographing of her children and attempts to write about them as evidence of the intrusions of the press.
On one occasion she found a note from a journalist inside her then five-year-old daughter's school bag and in another incident she claimed a reporter from the Scottish edition of The Sun had contacted her daughter's headmaster with a false claim she had upset her classmates by revealing that Harry Potter died in the final book in the series. In fact, she said, her daughter had expressly asked not to be told the plot of the novel.
The 46-year-old writer said she was particularly concerned about the publication of stories which, when put together, led to the location of her homes in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Britain becoming identifiable. She added that she was "literally driven out" of the home in the Scottish capital she bought with the proceeds of the first Harry Potter book, published in 1997, after photographs appeared clearly identifying the house number and street name.
She said: "I have, on occasion, been the target of unbalanced individuals. The police have been involved because of incidents or even threats. I think it's reasonable of me to wish the press would refrain from making my whereabouts so easily identifiable." Describing her testimony as a plea for "normal" rather than "special" treatment by the media, she added: "It is not normal for my address to be know to millions of newspaper readers or all over the internet."
The inquiry was told that publication by a celebrity magazine of a photograph of Ms Rowling's eldest daughter in a swimsuit at the age of eight had remained available on the internet for months despite a ruling by the Press Complaints Commission that it should not have been published. The author said: "When an image is disseminated, it can spread around the world like a virus. A child, no matter who their parents are, I think deserves privacy." Ms Rowling said the attentions of photographers had introduced a "general edginess" into her life and an "unnerving feeling that you are being watched".
Describing how she had snapped on one occasion in 2003 after spending a week "besieged" in her home following the birth of her son, she said: "I, rather absurdly, gave chase. How I thought I was going to outrun a 20-something paparazzo while pushing a buggy, I don't know. My daughter was saying, 'calm down, mum, calm down, it doesn't matter'. But it matters hugely to me."
The author said she had been told there was no evidence she had been a victim of phone hacking but listed a catalogue of transgressions, including the searching of her bins, and called for the introduction of a press regulator "with teeth".
Helping the inquiry: Morgan called home
Piers Morgan, the former Daily Mirror editor turned US talk-show host, will be asked to explain to the Leveson Inquiry allegations that phone hacking was widespread.
The media solicitor, Mark Thompson, told the inquiry he felt it went beyond the News of the World and highlighted a 2007 interview Mr Morgan conducted with the supermodel Naomi Campbell.
In it, Mr Morgan said: "It was well known that if you changed your pin code when you were a celebrity who bought a new phone, reporters could access your mobile, tap in standard factory setting and hear your messages." He has insisted the practice never went on in his newsrooms.