VIDEO: Hugh Grant leads parade of outraged U.K. phone hacking victims

The World

For Hugh Grant, it was an unusually dramatic role on Monday.

For two and a half hours, the British actor revealed the downside of being famous to a judicial inquiry examining media ethics in the wake of the tabloid phone-hacking scandal.

Hugh Grant’s wry humor belied his frustration with journalists who he believes have gone too far. As one of the first witnesses before the inquiry, Grant recounted his efforts to keep the paternity of his newborn daughter a secret even as her mother was trailed by paparazzi. He finally released a statement after a quick chat with his publicist.

“We had a hasty conversation on the phone while I was filming in Germany. It was not ideal circumstances, I was dressed as a cannibal at the time,” Grant said to laughter.

Grant has become an outspoken critic of the British tabloids. He insists negative articles are fine with him – it’s the stories that portray falsehood as fact that he can’t abide.

“They are based largely on a lot of misreporting, but for the parts that are not based on misreporting, it is perfectly fine to hate me. I have become very accustomed to that. It’s been extremely fashionable for a long time. That is what I expect in this country,” Grant said.

Ever since he became a star in 1994 with the release of the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Grant said he and those close to him have been victims of nasty, questionable journalistic practices.

But Grant reserved his harshest criticism for newspapers that have turned their sights on those people who never sought the spotlight — as well as the politicians who have failed to protect them.

“The licence that the tabloid press has had to steal British citizens’ privacy for their commercial profit – very often vulnerable British citizens – is a scandal that weak governments for too long have allowed to pass,” he said.

For all of Grant’s colorful testimony, the most powerful words came from the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. It was the news that her cellphone was hacked after her abduction that led to this inquiry.

Someone at the now-defunct News of the World newspaper deleted messages from Dowler’s previously full voice mailbox. That meant her mother, Sally Dowler, was suddenly able to get through to it – and it gave her false hope.

“I rang her phone and it clicked through onto her voicemail and I heard her voice and I jumped. She’s picked up her voicemails, she’s alive,” Sally Dowler told the inquiry.

The cruel truth was that Milly Dowler was already dead.

In the coming days and weeks, the inquiry will hear from other phone hacking victims, including the actress Sienna Miller and Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling.

Illegal phone hacking by British tabloids has sparked a national scandal. With more dark tales of journalistic excesses to come, new harsh regulations on the British media are likely to follow.

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