Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has defended Associated Newspapers‘ decision to accuse actor Hugh Grant of spreading “mendacious smears” when he appeared before the hacking inquiry.
When the actor gave evidence last year he suggested the Mail on Sunday may have hacked his phone in 2007 for a story on his relationship with Jemima Khan.
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Grant could produce no evidence to support his claim, which was met with a strongly-worded rebuttal from Associated Newspapers in which it accused the star of spreading ‘mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media”.
Explaining the background to the statement when he appeared at the inquiry this afternoon, Dacre said he was first alerted to Grant’s claims via a 4pm radio bulletin on the BBC which said that another major newspaper group had been dragged into the phone-hacking scandal.
‘It was a terrible smear on a company I love,’said Dacre, ‘We had to do something about it.’
He said he discussed Associated’s response with Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright and that both were aware they had to “rebut such a damaging, damaging allegation”.
‘We agreed on the form of words, ‘it was a mendacious smear”said Dacre, adding: ‘Our witness statements made clear that Associated was not involved in phone-hacking”.
‘Once we got our statement out we had a much more balanced reporting of it by the BBC and other media,’he added. ‘If that had been allowed to stand it would have been devastating for our reputation. It needed rebutting instantly. This is how modern communications work.”
Dacre claimed that Grant, supported by the Media Standards Trust-backed Hacked Off campaign, made the allegation in an attempt to ‘highjack’the Leveson Inquiry with a ‘highly calculated attempt to wound my company”.
He continued: ‘I’ve have never placed a story in the Daily Mail as a result of phone-hacking … I know of no cases of phone-hacking, having conducted a major internal inquiry I’m as confident as I can be that there’s no phone-hacking on the Daily Mail… and no editor, not the editor of The Guardian or The Independent, could say otherwise.”
He told the counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay QC: ‘I will withdraw that statement if Mr Grant withdraws his that the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were involved in phone-hacking.’
Asked why he didn’t come back with a more measured reponse, he replied: ‘Because by then it would have been too late, my company would have been smeared, my newspapers would have been smeared and I wasn’t prepared to allow that.
‘This is how modern instant communications work: it’s not the measured slow way of the court.”
He added: ‘It was a perfectly reasonably way to defend the reputation of my company and my newspapers.”
In response to Dacre’s claims a spokesperson for Hacked Off said: “‘The Hacked Off campaign and the Media Standards Trust categorically refute Paul Dacre’s baseless accusations that we have ‘attempted to hijack’ the Leveson Inquiry by somehow putting pressure on Hugh Grant, a supporter of the Hacked Off campaign, to ‘wound’ Associated Newspapers at the time Mr Grant gave oral evidence to the Inquiry.”