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.
Even more shocking, the affair places the power network of Murdoch, successive British governments and the police at the center of the firestorm. All of them are accused of suppressing the truth.
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.
"I said, 'Why has he got them? Who is he working for?' And they said, 'It looks from his records like he's working for most of the British press,'" Grant said. "That was the most chilling moment. ... There [were] details about my friends, family, their phone numbers, what I was getting up to. So that's not an allegation. That's the truth."
Grant played a part in exposing the scandal. The actor spoke of an incident when his car broke down on the side of a road in Kent, England, and a former News of the World features editor, Paul McMullan, came upon him and started taking photos.
"He starts boasting about the fact that he used to work at the NOTW," Grant said. "And he gives me everything about how they used to hack my phone, how phone hacking, contrary to opinion at that time -- this was earlier this year -- wasn't a small, isolated incident but was massive on an industrial scale, not only at NOTW but throughout the tabloid press in Britain, and how close their relationships were with the police, how close their relationships were with the government. Lots of horrifying stuff."