Hugh Grant's evidence to Leveson inquiry - live blog

Instant coverage and analysis as the actor gives evidence to the phone-hacking inquiry.

4.23: The hearing is over. Thanks for joining us.

4.19: Grant says he is "the opposite of a muzzler", and that he doesn't want to see the end of the popular press. He says he would defend the Britain instinct to be sceptical and to "take the piss", but that it has become too toxic in the last 20 years. He says that the UK is historically good at standing up to bullies and it's time to stand up with this one.

He also says he is disappointed he wasn't able to read his statement out before having to defend his positions.

4.18: Another top line from Grant, explaining why giving interviews to the press to promote films does not give them license to harrass him forever: "You sold me your milk, you slut. I'm now entitled to help myself to your milk for ever".

4.15: Grant has given a list of "10 myths" on this subject. They are:

1. That it is only celebrities and politicians who suffer at the hands of popular papers.

2. That egregious abuses of privacy happened only at the News of the World.

3. That in attempting to deal with the abuses of some sections of the press you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

4. That any attempt to regulate the press means we are heading for Zimbabwe. Self-regulation clearly hasn't worked, he says.

5. That current privacy law under the Human Rights Act muzzles the press.

6. That judges always find against the press.

7. Privacy can only ever be a rich man's toy. Attempts to water down conditional fee agreements are driven by the tabloid press, he says.

8. That most sex exposes carry a public interest defence. Grant says that the argument that it is a public interest because celebrities trade on their good name is very tenuous. "I've never had a good name," he says. "I was arrested with a prostitute and the film still made a ton of money."

9. That celebrities want to be in the papers, and need them, and therefore our objections to privacy intrusions are hypocritical. Grant says that he is obligated to do some publicity for films, but keeps this to a minimum.

10. That the tabloid press hacks are just loveable rogues. They glamorise themselves, says Grant, but hacking the phone of a murdered schoolgirl is not loveable.

4.03: "The press is the only industry which has a profound impact on other citizens which is regulated only by itself," says Grant.

3.53: "For the parts not based on misreporting, it is perfectly fine to hate me," says Grant, in response to the lawyer's questions about fair comment. "It's been fashionable for some time now and it's what I've come to expect in this country."

3.49: It's clear that Grant views the British press as particularly bad. He says that although there is some "toxic" journalism abroad, "on the whole, it is still done with a certain elegance, which we have lost in the last 30 years in this country".

3.43: Grant adds that at the press conference in question, he took a flippant tone, saying that he is always flippant or neutral when asked about the British tabloid press, because anything else invites editorial revenge.

3.41: Grant is being challenged about an interview where he said he "understood" why people were more interested in his love life than his films, and added that he was more interested in "who actors are shagging" than in their next film. In response, he maintains that that remains true but that doesn't mean that information should be obtained illegally or unethically.

3.39: Discussing the internet, Grant says that something on a newspaper website will spread much faster than if it's simply on a blog or a tweet, and becomes accepted as fact across the world.

3.36: Grant had a bit of a set-to with the lawyer, saying: "You have been very fair to Associated and News International". Jay responded: "I hope I have been fair to everyone", to which Grant said: "You told me back stage that you were going to bat me straight balls. If these are straight balls I'd hate to see your googlies."

3.26: They're back and discussing a recent article in the Sun about Grant's "new girlfriend" -- who he claims does not exist. He's elaborating on other fabrications in stories about his lovelife around the time that his daughter was born. He picks out Amanda Platell's Mail article "Hypocrisy and the tawdry self-love of Hugh Grant" as a hatchet-job.

3.12: The questioning has ended for a short break.

3.09: Apologies for a brief technical fault with the NS site. While we've been gone, Grant has discussed the way that the mother of his child was hounded by paparazzi. It was primarily the Mail perpetrating this harrassment. He appears to be going after the Mail in particular today.

2.47: They are now moving onto Grant's supplementary evidence, which deals with the injunction he has obtained to protect his baby and her mother.

2.45: Grant says he is "curious" to know who at the Mail and the Mirror commissioned Glenn Mulcaire to hack his phone -- the notes he saw referred to stories published in these two papers.

2.39: They are discussing the section of Grant's NS piece in which McMullan appears to suggest that the Mail was involved in phone-hacking:

Me And . . . it wasn't just the News of the World. It was , you know - the Mail?
Him 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!

The QC suggests that McMullan could be referring only to selling photographs, rather than phone-hacking.

2.33: QC Jay is asking Grant about his chance encounter with former NotW journalist Paul McMullan -- he taped a conversation with McMullan which he then published in the New Statesman. You can read the transcript of that conversation here.

The NS has had a mention, with the QC referring to the "zippy title" ("The bugger, bugged"). They are now examining the transcript of the NS piece.

2.26: Grant is now talking about the paparazzi, saying that there are two types; those employed by national newspapers who occasionally show a "modicum of decency", and freelancers, who will go further in pursuit of a picture. He alleges that many of them are already criminals and will digitally alter photographs so that they can sell them for more. He says he suspect it is this latter category who tailing Princess Diana.

2.23: In response to the QC's suggestion that his medical records might not have been accessed by the Sun, Grant says sarcastically: "No, maybe it was a lucky guess." He is clearly very angry about the continual breach of his privacy. He says it is "fundamental to the British sense of decency" that medical records should remain private.

2.18: Referring to an incident where a news story was based on his medical records, Grant says, "if the use of an individual's medical records for commercial gain is not within the remit of the PCC, then what the hell is it for?"

2.10: Grant is talking about a story that the Mail ran in 2007, saying that his relationship with Jemima Khan was on the rocks because of his late-night phone conversations with a "plummy voiced studio executive from Warner Brothers". He sued for libel and won, and subsequently realised that he had been having phone conversations with a friend in LA wth a "plummy voice". The implication is that the story must have come from phone-hacking. "I would love to know what the Mail's explanation or source was, if it wasn't from phone-hacking."

2.06: The inquiry says they are not interested in "the events of July 1995" -- referring of course to Divine Brown. Grant says, "I wish you would [ask about it]", saying that the press storm around his crime was to be expected. His campaign against press behaviour is "emphatically not" because of embarrassment over this episode; the only aspect which still disturbs him is that his London flat was broken into soon afterwards.

2.04: Grant has taken the stand. He's talking about when he first became very famous, with Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, and the initial positive treatment he received from the press.

1.52pm: I'll be live-blogging Hugh Grant's appearance in front of the Leveson inquiry. It's due to start at 2pm.

Today sees the first alleged victims of phone-hacking giving evidence to the inquiry. This morning, we heard from Bob and Sally Dowler, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.