Hugh Grant damages claim against Sun publisher to go to trial

<span>Photograph: James Manning/PA</span>
Photograph: James Manning/PA

A damages claim brought by Hugh Grant against the publisher of the Sun over allegations of unlawful information gathering will go to trial after a ruling by a high court judge.

The actor has alleged that people working for the company burgled his flat and placed a tracking device in his car – as well as tapping his landline and hacking his voicemails – in an attempt to find stories about his personal life.

“I am pleased that my case will be allowed to go to trial, which is what I have always wanted – because it is necessary that the truth comes out about the activities of the Sun,” Grant said after Mr Justice Fancourt handed down his ruling on Friday. “As my case makes clear, the allegations go far wider and deeper than voicemail interception.”

Grant’s phone-hacking claims against the company will not be among the issues laid before the court, as the judge ruled he had run out of time to raise them.

The judge said that, while Grant had believed the publisher’s public denials more than 10 years ago that phone hacking had taken place at the Sun, his lawyers had seen evidence to the contrary no later than 2016 – meaning the six years he had to bring a case had elapsed.

Grant said: “The judgment says that News Group’s sworn denials of phone-hacking at the Sun during and after the Leveson Inquiry, should not have been believed by me, and so I am too late to claim damages for the relatively small phone-hacking element of my claim. That says as much about News Group’s honesty as it does about any naivety I may have displayed by believing what NGN’s witnesses say on oath.”

In his witness statement to the court in April, Grant said his allegations against the Sun included “burglaries to order, the breaking and entering of private property in order to obtain private information through bugging, landline tapping, phone hacking and the use of private investigators to do all these and other illegal things against me”.

He claimed 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, “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.

He also claimed in his evidence 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. He said the burglaries were carried out with the “knowledge and approval” of the senior Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks, who was then the editor of the Sun.

On Friday, the judge said that, in contrast to the phone-hacking elements of his claim, it was “only on seeing invoices disclosed in NGN’s [News Group Newspaper’s] generic disclosure in 2021 that Mr Grant believed that private investigators (PIs) had been instructed by the Sun to target him in various ways, particularly in 2011”.

The judge said: “Although Mr Grant was aware prior to March 2016 of general allegations about use of PIs to obtain information, there is in my judgment a realistic chance that Mr Grant may establish at trial that, although he was aware of general allegations and was suspicious, he could not reasonably have believed with sufficient confidence that he may have been targeted by PIs instructed by the Sun in some of the relevant ways.

“Sufficient knowledge or belief that NGN’s denials of phone hacking were false does not necessarily mean that Mr Grant believed at that time that NGN had used different methods of UIG [unlawful information gathering] targeted at him. That issue will have to be tried.”

A spokesperson for NGN said: “NGN is pleased that, following our application, the high court has ruled that Mr Grant is statute barred from bringing a phone-hacking claim against the Sun.

“The remainder of his claim, which has been brought following a statement made by [the private investigator] Mr Gavin Burrows in 2021, has been allowed to proceed to trial. NGN strongly denies the various historical allegations of unlawful information-gathering contained in what remains of Mr Grant’s claim.”

Grant has already settled a claim against NGN over phone hacking at the News of the World. This is a separate claim referring to the now-defunct title’s daily sister.