Simon Carr: Witnesses show press the meaning of virtue

Sketch: Hugh Grant was the dashing metropolitan cavalier, and the Dowlers... well, my notes were swimming a bit at that point

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The Independent Online

In their different ways, the first and last witnesses for Lord Justice Leveson yesterday gave off a particular sort of English virtue. None had set out to be role models – but there aren't many situations where you couldn't hold one or the other up to your children and say: "Be more like that."

Milly Dowler's parents described how they had recreated their daughter's last walk and put up Missing Person posters. The next day photos, taken through a long lens, appeared in the press. How had anyone known? They had made arrangements by voicemail.

Mr Dowler, by the way, is a large, quiet man with a resonant voice. I hope Mrs Dowler won't mind my saying her manner shows something of the last decade. They refer and defer to each other with quick glances. Mrs Dowler told us how they left their daughter messages until her inbox was full. Then one day, Mrs Dowler said: "I dialled her voicemail and I heard her voice and" (her own voice picked up), "it was like 'She's alive!'" I'm pretty sure that's what she said though the notes were swimming a bit.

They were asked whether they had any recommendations for Lord Justice Leveson. They had said earlier: "We're ordinary people and have no experience in public situations." Now they said: "I think we'll leave that to you." And that made things swim again.

Hugh Grant, a dashing metropolitan cavalier, is a very different character. In his public manner he's careful, watchful, ironic, concise. He gave his name as "Hugh John 'Mungo' Grant" (his inverted commas).

What did he give us? Honesty: "I don't trade on my good name, I've never had a good name! I'm the man who got caught with a prostitute!" Some gallantry: "I've done my revenge act on Paul McMullen, I don't want him to go to jail."

Solidity in the face of mysteriously hostile questioning: "Backstage, Mr Jay [the inquiry's Counsel], you said you were going to bowl me some straight balls. If these are your straight balls I'd hate to see your googlies."

Talent for argument: "I'm just trying to be fair to the article," Mr Jay said, "it doesn't describe her as your girlfriend."

"You have been very fair to News International," Grant replied, "but a headline saying 'Hugh And New Girl 3 Weeks Before Birth' says 'girlfriend' to me unless I'm reading a different language."

And humour: "It wasn't a brilliant time to discuss it because I was dressed as a cannibal." Laughter, but not from the court.

Yes, whatever his flaws – I'd rather boys turned out like him than the Glendas who slag him off.