Hugh Grant damages claim against Sun publisher to go to trial
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, although the actor’s phone-hacking claims against the company will not be among the issues before the court.
Grant 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.
While Mr Justice Fancourt ruled on Friday that much of the claim could proceed, he said Grant had had ample opportunity already to raise the allegations relating to phone hacking.
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 being forced off its hinges, but nothing was 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 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: “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.
“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 and refers to the now-defunct title’s daily sister.
NGN lawyers tried to stop the latest claim going to trial, saying Grant had taken too long to file it. The actor argued that the time taken was due to the company concealing its employees’ behaviour.