A glamorous government inquiry? Under normal circumstances, it would be an oxymoron. But with J.K. Rowling, Sienna Miller and former F1 boss Max Mosley taking the stand today, the U.K. Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking is an exception.
Harry Potter author Rowling headlined the day with revelations that a reporter had slipped a note into her 5-year-old daughter’s schoolbag during the early days of her fame. “She was in her first year at primary school, and I unzipped her schoolbag in the evening,” she said. “I found a letter addressed to me and the letter was from a journalist … I can only say that I felt such a sense of invasion.” Rowling went on to detail how her husband had been tricked early in their relationship into revealing his address by someone posing as a customs agent. The next morning, he had journalists outside his door. “That was not a very nice introduction to being involved with somebody famous,” said Rowling.
Her most pained moment came, however, while describing how photographers had taken pictures of her 8-year-old daughter in a bathing suit while the family was in holiday in Mauritius. “When an image is disseminated, it can spread around the world like a virus … [it] has a life that cannot be recalled,” she said.
While Rowling does not believe she was ever the victim of phone hacking, actress Sienna Miller was a primary target of hacking by News of the World investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Miller, who was the first to take the stand today, said the constant leaking of personal information known only to her intimate circle had left her anxious and paranoid. “Horribly, I accused my friends and family of selling stories, and they accused each other as well.” Miller settled with News of the World for $155,300 in damages this summer.
Miller also described how, early in her career, she was “relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men” who “spat at” and “verbally abused” her. “They will go to any lengths to upset you,” she said, adding that she often found herself as a 21-year-old “running down a dark street on my own” at midnight to escape the paparazzi. “Take away their cameras, and you’ve got a pack of men chasing a woman.”
In the closing portion of her testimony, Miller recounted how in 2006 The Daily Mirror published pictures of her playing with a terminally ill child at a charity ball for the Starlight Foundation. At one point during the game, “someone took a photograph and the Mirror published the photograph and said I was drunk.” Miller sued and won, but said that “at that point the damage was done.”
Later in the morning, Formula One boss Max Mosley testified at length about his privacy action against the News of the World, which accused him in 2008 of participating in a “sick Nazi orgy.” The tabloid also posted pictures and video of a five-hour S&M session Mosley had participated in with prostitutes in a $3 million London flat.
Mosley, whose father Sir Oswald was a former leader of the British Union of Fascists, described how News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck masterminded the Nazi setup from the beginning by sending in a dominatrix with a secret camera in her lapel. Mosley said Thurlbeck told the woman, “If you get him to do the Sieg Heil, get him to stand back three meters, so you get it all in shot.” Mosley, 68, sued and won $93,200, with the court ruling that the orgy had not been Nazi-themed, that Mosley had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and that his life had been “ruined.”
Mosley said the News of the World “orgy” story had “the most devastating effect” on his son, who had struggled with drug addiction. When Mosley’s son committed suicide in May 2009, Mosley said journalists hounded him as he tried to pick up his son’s personal effects from his home. “I thought it was absolutely outrageous that they took photographs in that situation,” he said. “They have no human feeling at all.”
Like Rowling and Miller, Mosley said there was no going back, no matter how many court cases he wins. “Invasion of privacy is worse than burglary. You can replace things that have been taken and repair the damage, but if someone invades your privacy, you can never repair the damage.”
It appears that the Murdochs believe the ongoing hacking scandal and high-profile inquiry may have irreparably damaged their company News Corp.’s place in the U.K. press. On Wednesday, James Murdoch resigned from directorships linking him to flagship British newspapers the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.