Hugh Grant settles phone hacking claim ‘for enormous sum’

Hugh Grant
Hugh Grant has settled a claim against The Sun's publisher - James Manning/PA

Hugh Grant has settled his claim against News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun, over allegations of unlawful information gathering, admitting that he could not risk being saddled with an estimated £10 million in legal costs.

The actor, along with the Duke of Sussex and more than 40 others, had sued NGN over alleged unlawful information gathering and invasion of privacy. A trial is scheduled for January 2025.

Mr Grant, 63, claimed that he was targeted by journalists and private investigators working for The Sun, “including burglaries to order, the breaking and entering of private property in order to obtain private information through bugging, landline tapping, phone hacking”.

However, he said on Wednesday that he had been forced to settle his claim because the rules of civil litigation meant that if he was awarded damages “even a penny less” than the settlement offer, he would be liable for the legal costs of both sides.

‘I don’t want to accept this money’

“As is common with entirely innocent people, they are offering me an enormous sum of money to keep this matter out of court,” he wrote in a lengthy explanation of his actions on Twitter/X.

“I don’t want to accept this money or settle. I would love to see all the allegations that they deny tested in court ...  Rupert Murdoch’s lawyers are very expensive. So even if every allegation is proven in court, I would still be liable for something approaching £10 million in costs. I’m afraid I am shying at that fence.”

The Love Actually and Notting Hill star has been the public face of the Hacked Off campaign against the tabloid newspaper industry since it launched at the height of the phone hacking scandal in 2011.

In 2012, he became director of a not-for-profit company set up by the campaign for press reform and also played a leading role at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Mr Grant had alleged that there was a break-in at his London flat, where the front door was forced off its hinges, and that a story appeared shortly afterwards in The Sun that “detailed the interior”.

He said he had been given information by a private investigator in early 2022 that prompted him to launch his claim.

But last May, the actor suffered a significant setback when he was denied the chance to take his phone hacking claims to trial.

Mr Justice Fancourt ruled that he could have brought that element of his claim sooner, having had knowledge of it.

Murdoch ‘has spent £1bn’

In his statement, Mr Grant claimed that Mr Murdoch had spent over £1billion in damages to claimants and in lawyers’ fees, alleging that the media mogul appeared “remarkably determined that there shouldn’t be a trial of the facts”.

Despite accepting the settlement, he said the money “has a stink”, adding that he refused to let it be “hush money”.

As such, he said he would donate it to groups such as Hacked Off “to expose the worst excesses of our oligarch-owned press”.

By contrast, the Duke is not only pursuing his own claim but asked the judge in March if he could extend the parameters by incorporating allegations dating from 1994 until 2016, rather than the current 1996 until 2011.

On Wednesday, NGN applied for a separate trial to take place ahead of the full trial to determine whether the outstanding claims were brought too late.

Anthony Hudson KC, for the publisher, noted that the original arrests and charges brought against phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire and the News of the World’s royal editor Clive Goodman in 2006 were “high profile” and covered by “extensive reporting.”

But he said Prince Harry had not issued proceedings until 2019, 23 years after the earliest wrong alleged in his current claim ,and eight years after the most recent alleged wrong.

“Accordingly, the primary limitation period of six years has expired, by a significant margin,” he said.

The barrister told the court that by addressing the issue ahead of time, it might obviate the need for a full trial, or limit the scope of such a trial, “saving substantial costs and court time”.

He noted that the litigation had already taken up a huge amount of court time, at “vast” cost, with three trial judges and 13 trial dates listed and vacated, amounting to 61 weeks of court time.

“The costs have also been vast,” he said. “Well over £30 million in common costs just up until September 2020.”

A spokesman for News Group Newspapers said: “In 2011, an unreserved apology was made by NGN to victims of voicemail interception by the News Of The World. Since then, NGN has been paying financial damages to those with proper claims.

“As we reach the tail end of litigation, NGN is drawing a line under disputed matters, some of which date back more than 20 years ago. In some cases, it has made commercial sense for both parties to come to a settlement agreement before trial to bring a resolution to the matter.

“There are a number of disputed claims still going through the civil courts, some of which seek to involve The Sun. The Sun does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations.

“A judge recently ruled that parts of Mr Grant’s claim were out of time and we have reached agreement to settle the remainder of the case. This has been done without admission of liability. It is in both parties’ financial interests not to progress to a costly trial.”