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Hugh Grant alleges British tabloid hacked his phone

November 21, 2011 |  2:05 pm

REPORTING FROM LONDON -- After hearing wrenching testimony from the family of a murdered schoolgirl whose cellphone had been hacked by a newspaper, Britain’s inquiry into the behavior of its news media moved on to testimony from a more conventional target of the tabloid press: actor Hugh Grant, the "Four Weddings and a Funeral" star who has had a running feud with the British media ever since that 1994 film.

In 2½ hours of testimony, Grant said it was time to stand up to the “bullying” of the tabloid media. He accused British newspapers of publishing information about his personal life that could only have been obtained by hacking into his phone.

For the first time, the actor accused a publication outside Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. of phone hacking. He said the Mail on Sunday’s story alleging an affair between him and a woman who spoke in “plummy,” or upper-class, tones must have been based on phone messages the paper had listened to but misconstrued.

Grant successfully sued for libel in 2007. But the paper denied his accusation Monday that it had illegally tapped into his phone.

A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday referred to Grant’s allegations as “mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media.”

The testimony came at an inquiry into the practices and ethics -– or lack of them -– of Britain’s media. The inquiry, launched last week and directed by Judge Brian Leveson, is the result of the scandal that exploded in July when it was revealed that a private investigator hired by the Murdoch-owned News of the World had allegedly hacked into missing 13-year-old Milly Dowler’s cellphone and erased some of her voicemails to free up space for more messages, which were fodder for “exclusives” by the scoop-obsessed tabloid.

Grant has emerged as the designated spokesman for the anti-hacking campaign, an eloquent advocate who has cornered politicians, scolded editors and debated pundits on the need to crack down on tabloid abuses and regulate the press. It’s a role he has taken on with relish.

“He has become the poster boy -– the poster man -– for this inquiry,” said Julia Hobsbawm, head of Editorial Intelligence, a media analysis firm. “Unlike celebrities that have allied themselves with very worthy, very good, but ultimately soft causes, he has jumped into a very complex, very hard debate.”

He called press abuses “scandalous” and rejected suggestions that such tactics as surveillance, entrapment and outright blackmail in pursuit of stories were all part of the game.

“I don’t find that lovable and naughty. I find that cowardly and bullying and shocking,” Grant said. “And most shocking is that this has been allowed to go on so long with no one putting their hand up and saying, ‘Stop.’ ”

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-- Henry Chu

Video: Actor Hugh Grant says phone hacking is the only way the Mail on Sunday tabloid could have obtained the story alleging that his romance with Jemima Khan was on the rocks because of his conversations with a "plummy"-voiced woman. Credit: Associated Press

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