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Wednesday
Jul132011

Hugh Grant on 'News of the World' Scandal: 'Government Did Nothing'

ABC News(LONDON) -- Actor Hugh Grant, who helped expose the News of the World phone hacking scandal, says that not only did the British tabloids pay off the police to gather people's personal information, but that the British government did nothing to stop it.

"Tabloids are using private detectives who are using illegal techniques, and it's very widespread," Grant said. "And the government did nothing -- absolutely nothing -- because of their terror of the press. They did not want to upset the tabloid press, who they were, at that stage, still enthralled in."

The scandal -- involving News of the World, a British tabloid owned by News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, and an epidemic of alleged criminal activity that includes hacking the voicemails of murder victims -- has rocked Britain to the core since erupting publicly last week.

Grant said evidence of British tabloids hacking into people's personal information has been around for years but that British government officials, including five successive prime ministers, tried to cover it up for fear of being smeared in one of Murdoch's papers.

"That's been one of the most shocking aspects of all this: You know, our politicians have been craven cowards in the face of Murdoch's terror," he said. "This was a country that was effectively ruled by Rupert Murdoch, and right now in Parliament they're pretty much telling him to get out of the country."

The actor said he has long had "paranoid moments" concerning the tabloid press because "photographers would pop up out of nowhere." But he couldn't confirm his suspicions that the press might be tracking him illegally until about five years ago. That's when, Grant said, police showed up at his door and told him they had arrested a private investigator who had Grant's personal information, including phone numbers, PIN numbers and bank account details.

Grant played a part in exposing the scandal when he wore a recording device as a former News of the World features editor, Paul McMullan, confirmed the paper's tactics to him. Grant then published his recordings in a British magazine, New Statesman.

Despite the scandal, Grant said he still believes in a system that allows freedom of the press.

"My main motive in all this has been to just bring it out into the public and to let people know that there's this scam going on," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a criminal investigation is underway and investigators are reviewing 11,000 pages of documents containing nearly 4,000 names and thousands of phone numbers. About 180 people whose identities were found in the documents have been notified so far.

Murdoch has been in London since Sunday to try to contain the crisis. The News of the World wasn't just another paper in Murdoch's portfolio; it was the best-selling and most-profitable Sunday paper in Britain.

James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son and heir, announced last week that the newspaper would print its last issue on July 10 after 168 years of being in print, leaving its 270-person staff without jobs.

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