Hugh Grant giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry
Hugh Grant has linked the Mail on Sunday to phone hacking, accusing the newspaper of gaining information for a story by accessing his voicemail.
Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Mail, has consistently denied that any of its staff were involved with hacking, but Grant alleged at the Leveson inquiry today that the only way the newspaper could have got information for a particular story was by phone hacking.
Jay challenged Grant to provide concrete evidence of the Mail committing the illegal practice that led to the closure of the News of the World. The central piece of Grant's evidence was his claim that a story that appeared in the Mail on Sunday in February 2007, which claimed his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks because of phone calls between the actor and a "plummy-voiced woman", can only have been obtained by accessing his voicemail.
"I cannot for the life of me think of any conceivable source for the story in the Mail on Sunday except those voice messages on my mobile phone," he said.
The woman in question – according to Grant – was an English studio assistant who worked in the US, with whom Grant spoke occasionally and only by phone.
Jay disputed that the claim amounted to evidence of phone hacking at the Mail and went on to challenge Grant's other piece of evidence against the Mail, which was a secretly-recorded conversation with the former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan, published by the New Statesman.
During the conversation, McMullan told Grant about the outdated tabloid practice of intercepting analogue mobile calls using scanners.
Grant: "Is that how the Squidgy tapes [of Diana's phone conversations] came out? Which was put down to radio hams, but was in fact ..."
McMullan: "Paps in the back of a van, yes ... I mean, politicians were dropping like flies in the nineties because it was so easy to get stuff on them. And, obviously, less easy to justify is celebrities. But yes."
Grant: "And ... it wasn't just the News of the World. It was , you know - the Mail?"
McMullan: "Oh absolutely, yeah. When I went freelance in 2004 the biggest payers - you'd have thought it would be the NoW, but actually it was the Daily Mail. If I take a good picture, the first person I go to is - such as in your case - the Mail on Sunday. Did you see that story? The picture of you, breaking down . . . I ought to thank you for that. I got £3,000. Whooo!"
Grant: "But would they [the Mail] buy a phone-hacked story?"
McMullan: "For about four or five years they've absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren't. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money."
Jay disputed that the conversation with McMullan pointed to phone hacking, claiming instead that it was ambiguous and that McMullan appeared to be talking about the practice of selling photographs. Grant said that he had left out the "boring bits", accounting for the ellipses in the transcript.
The QC then asked Grant whether he would provide the full McMullan tape to the inquiry but Grant refused, telling the lawyer that he had already declined to provide the tape to the police as he did not wish to incriminate McMullan.
"I feel like I did my revenge number on Paul McMullan."
"For me the issue with him is done. Two separate police inquiries have asked me for the tape and I've refused. It seems too harsh. I don't want to be sending Paul McMullan to prison.
"In addition he has to be given some credit for being a whistleblower on all this."
Grant was instructed by Lord Leveson early on during his appearance not to take Jay's questions as synonymous with his opinion, rather than simply as investigative questions.
The actor told Jay during his appearance that the QC had "been very fair to News International and to Associated Newspapers".
"I hope I have been fair to everyone," Jay replied.
Grant's appearance at the inquiry was preceded by evidence from the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the columnist Joan Smith, and lawyer Graham Shear.
Tomorrow will see evidence from the actor Steve Coogan, Elle Macpherson's former business adviser Mary-Ellen Field, former Blackburn Rovers footballer Garry Flitcroft, and Margaret Watson, mother of murder victim Diane Watson. Follow this link to see the full week's schedule.
Associated Newspapers has consistently denied that phone hacking took place at any of its titles, but was unavailable for further comment.