LONDON — A British court on Friday rejected an attempt by Ruper Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers to throw out a lawsuit by actor Hugh Grant alleging Murdoch’s tabloid paper The Sun and investigators it hired spied on him illegally.
Justice Timothy Fancourt said a trial in a London court will determine whether Murdoch’s organization carried out unlawful information gathering that included tapping Grant’s home phone, bugging his car and breaking into his home, The Associated Press reported.
“If true — which will be a matter for the trial due to take place in January 2024 — these allegations would establish very serious, deliberate wrongdoing at NGN, conducted on an institutional basis on a huge scale,” Fancourt wrote in his ruling. “Of particular relevance …, they would also establish a concerted effort to conceal the wrongdoing by hiding and destroying relevant documentary evidence, repeated public denials, lies to regulators and authorities, and unwarranted threats to those who dared to make allegations or notify intended claims against The Sun.”
Grant claims that in 2011, his London flat was broken into, with the front door forced off its hinges, but nothing stolen. A story in The Sun the next day, he said in a witness statement in April, “detailed the interior of the flat, including the signs of a domestic row.” Grant insisted he had no sense at the time that The Sun might be behind the incident.
Grant also testified that The Sun used private investigators to break into addresses linked to his film production company and his ex-girlfriend Liz Hurley during the 2000s. The burglaries were carried out with the “knowledge and approval” of senior Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks, who was then the editor of The Sun, he said.
Grant previously settled a phone hacking case with News Group’s former publication, News of the World, The Guardian reported. That paper was closed in 2011 at the height of the hacking scandal after it was revealed that the tabloid had intercepted voicemails of a murdered girl, in addition to those of celebrities, athletes, politicians and members of the royal family.
News Group has asserted no unlawful information gathering occurred at The Sun. It unsuccessfully argued Grant’s action should be blocked because he waited too long to launch it, BBC News said.
But Grant argued he should be allowed to bring the case now because material he and his lawyers will rely on only came to light in recent years, BBC said. Some of the evidence against the newspaper was contained in a 2021 witness statement made by private investigator Gavin Burrows, who disclosed acts of phone tapping, bugging and burglary on behalf of the paper.
Fancourt acknowledged that the 62-year-old actor and privacy campaigner had long believed that private investigators had been paid to look into his affairs. But the judge said there was a realistic chance that Grant would establish at trial that, before seeing the 2021 evidence, “he could not reasonably have believed with sufficient confidence that he may have been targeted by [private investigators] instructed by The Sun,” BBC reported.