'Daily Mail' editor holds line on Grant


TOP FLEET Street editor Paul Dacre has refused to withdraw charges that actor Hugh Grant is guilty of a “mendacious smear” against the Daily Mailfor accusing it of being involved in phone-hacking.

During sharp exchanges with Mr Grant’s lawyer at the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Dacre said Mr Grant’s accusation, which had not been included in his witness statement, had been designed to do the maximum damage possible to the mid-market tabloid.

The Hollywood actor “knew the damage” that his “explosive and toxic” comments would have, said Mr Dacre, who was ordered to come back to the inquiry yesterday by Lord Justice Brian Leveson,  so unhappy was the judge about Mr Dacre’s attack on the actor.

“If we had allowed [his] allegation to get traction, it would have taken off. We had to act in the robust way that we did,” Mr Dacre continued. “Allegations of phone hacking have closed down a newspaper. It was explosive and toxic and he, a very sophisticated communicator who has been using the press all his life, knew the damage it would cause.”

However, Mr Grant’s lawyer David Sherborne said: “He was not attacking your newspaper group. He was simply explaining what his speculation was.”

Pressed by Lord Justice Leveson, who said the editor had accused the actor of deliberating lying, Mr Dacre continued to refuse to withdraw, saying only:  “I will withdraw it if Mr Grant withdraws his repeated statements about the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, Heather Mills, former wife of ex-Beatles star Paul McCartney, told the inquiry that a reporter with the Mirrorgroup of newspapers  had admitted he listened to a voicemail left by Mr McCartney after the two had a row before they got married.

Ms Mills said she believed that up to 25 messages on her telephone had been hacked, and that all of the messages around that time in 2001 were appearing as saved messages, showing that they had already been played.

Faced with the admission from the Mirrorreporter, Ms Mills said she had told him there was no way he could have known that Mr McCartney had sung to her in a voicemail by way of an apology unless he had listened to the voicemail.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists has rejected as impractical and ridiculous Mr Dacre’s proposal for a “super” press card that could be withdrawn if a journalist was found by a trade body to be guilty of serious misconduct.

Under the Dacre plan, journalists, or others operating without the card would be denied access to local government, politicians, police and other official bodies, but it would, in effect, replace, or supersede the card issued currently by the National Union of Journalists.

“It’s yet another example of how as an editor – a very high profile influential member of the industry – is trying to again pin the blame on individual journalists.

“They want a system in place that’s run by the industry and controlled by the industry,” said NUJ general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet.