There are many remarkable, tragic, and history-making strands to the News of the World phone hacking scandal which continues to dominate British public life more than a week after it was announced that the Rupert Murdoch-owned, 168-year-old paper would close. Just today came the news that senior Murdoch executive and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks has resigned because of the furore surrounding the title, which stands accused of hacking the phones of thousands of people, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Sienna Miller, Jude Law, and a 13-year-old murder victim named Milly Dowler. And yesterday, the New York Times reported that the FBI has a opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the News of the World attempted to gain access to the phone records of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Murdoch has also publicly apologized for “serious wrongdoing” in a written ad which is being placed in several British newspapers this weekend.
The most unlikely plotline in this complex saga is the involvement of Hugh Grant, who over the past few months has emerged as one of the most high profile critics of the Murdoch organization. Late last year, the Bridget Jones actor’s car broke down and he was offered a ride by a paparazzo named Paul McMullan. McMullan revealed that he had he had formerly been a News of the World investigative journalist and, according to Grant, confirmed the paper had hacked his phone. Grant later met up with McMullan and secretly recorded their conversation, the transcript of which he subsequently published in U.K. magazine the New Statesman.
Below, Grant talks about how he turned the tables on his tormentors.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in this story?
HUGH GRANT: I was told I was hacked, originally about six years ago. And the police did nothing about it. Then I had this extraordinary encounter with a News of the World journalist, when my car broke down. When he started boasting about how they’d been tapping my phone and everyone’s phone, and what a close relationship they’d enjoyed with the police and the government, I was so appalled that I did go back a few months later and I got him doing it again over a few drinks. That created quite a big stir. In that article I do ask if he thought the News of the World had also hacked the phones of the the relatives of Milly Dowler and he said, “Yeah, probably.” But until that came out properly in [U.K. newspaper] the Guardian [on July 4], it was difficult to get the whole country outraged. But now they are incandescent.
McMullan had earlier blown the whistle on some of the paper’s dubious activities. But was there still a thrill about recording him like that?
Um, yes. It felt like symmetry for sure. You know, they hacked me, I hacked him
Have you been conferring with other celebrities who believe their phones were hacked?
I’ve had a lot of emails and texts of support from other people who have been hacked, some of whom are actors and singers. But up ’til now, there’s not a lot of people who’ve come over the top of the parapet. Having said that, we now have the absurd situation where both the government and the opposition — who for the best part of 25 years have been afraid of the tabloid press and in particular the Murdoch press — they’re competing to be the most anti-Murdoch, because they’ve caved in to public outrage. And it’s a really fascinating situation whether they will stick to this, or go back to being Murdoch’s little helpers, rather than our elected representatives.
You can read more from Grant — including whether he’s worried his anti-Murdoch stance might hurt his career — in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly.
Rebekah Brooks, former ‘News of the World’ editor, resigns post at News International