Hugh Grant links Mail on Sunday to phone hacking

"I would love to know what the Mail's explanation or source was," the actor tells the Leveson inquir

Hugh Grant has speculated over the source of a 2007 story on his private life in the Mail on Sunday, claiming it was obtained by phone hacking.

Giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry into press standards earlier today, the actor seemed to make a concerted effort to broaden the focus of attention from News International to other newspapers.

Grant referred to a piece claiming 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 subsequently realised that he had been having phone conversations with a friend who worked at a film studio in Los Angeles with a "plummy voice". Because of the time difference, she had left him answer phone messages late at night.

He told the inquiry: "I would love to know what the Mail's explanation or source was, if it wasn't from phone-hacking." The counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, said that his claim was merely speculation.

Grant also spoke about the injunction obtained by the mother of his baby, Ting Lan Hong. He said that although he had been pilloried in the press for being a "bad father" and not being present at the birth, he had in fact made the decision to stay away because he feared bringing down a "press storm" on her. He said that her parents, and a female cousin of his, were present.

When he visited Ting Lan Hong in hospital, Grant said that he received a call from a Daily Mail reporter, saying that the paper was ready to publish a story about the child (which the Mail eventually did in November, once a magazine in the US had broken it). "On the day afterwards, I couldn't resist a quick visit. But the day after the phone calls started. The Daily Mail rang saying 'we know about Ting Lan'," he told the inquiry.

Grant added that one of the Mail journalists working on the story had previously worked at News of the World.

In November, two articles about Grant and his child appeared in the Mail under the byline of Keith Gladdis. Until June this year, Gladdis wrote for the News of the World. It is not yet confirmed whether Gladdis is the reporter who phoned Hugh Grant.

A statement from the Mail on Sunday said the newspaper rejected the allegations, adding: "Mr Grant's allegations are mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media."

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia