NEW: Grant calls the hacking of a murdered girl's phone "cowardly and shocking"
Milly Dowler's mother describes how phone hacking gave her false hope
Journalists hacked Milly Dowler's phone before her body was discovered
Police say up to 5,800 people were targets of phone hacking
Hugh Grant took aim at the British press Monday, calling the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s voice mail “cowardly and shocking.”
The British actor also accused newspapers of using criminals as paparazzi and the Mail on Sunday of hacking into his voice mail.
The “Four Weddings and a Funeral” star was testifying before a government-backed inquiry into press ethics sparked by public outrage at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper.
The best-selling Sunday tabloid was shut down in July after the revelation that it had hacked into the voice mail of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.
Dowler’s mother, Sally, explained earlier Monday how the hacking had given her false hope that her missing daughter was still alive.
She described her joy at finding voice mails had been deleted from her missing daughter’s phone: “She’s checked her voice mail, Bob! She’s alive!”
In fact, the messages had been deleted by a private investigator working for News of the World, Dowler’s father, Bob, told the inquiry panel.
Sally Dowler’s face fell as she recalled finding out it was the hacker, not her daughter, who had been checking the voice mail.
Grant said he thought he had also been a victim of phone hacking.
He said he could not think of any other source for a Mail on Sunday story about his relationship with his then-girlfriend Jemima Khan being on the rocks because of his phone flirtation with a “plummy-voiced Englishwoman.” That story was later found false and libelous in court.
Grant’s accusation widens the scope of the British newspaper phone-hacking scandal, which has focused mostly on Murdoch-owned titles so far. The Mail on Sunday is not a Murdoch newspaper.
Grant also implied that the police were leaking stories about celebrities to the press, saying that when he called the police about his girlfriend being mugged, paparazzi showed up before the police.
Police investigating phone hacking by journalists say that about 5,800 people, including celebrities, crime victims, politicians and members of the royal family, were targets of phone hacking by journalists in search of stories.
The practice involves illegally eavesdropping on voice mail by entering a PIN to access messages remotely.
Most attention has focused on the now-defunct News of the World, once the flagship Sunday tabloid of Murdoch’s News International British publishing company.
Murdoch and his son James have been called to testify before parliament over the scandal, and their company agreed last month to pay 2 million pounds ($3.1 million) in compensation to the Dowler family. Rupert Murdoch personally donated 1 million pounds ($1.57 million) to charity as part of the deal, his company and the Dowlers announced last month.
More than two dozen News International employees used the services of a convicted phone hacker, the inquiry panel heard last week.
“This fact alone suggests wide-ranging, illegal activity within the organization at the relevant time,” Robert Jay, one of the lawyers serving as part of the Leveson Inquiry, said as the panel began hearing testimony.
James Murdoch has always insisted that the practice of phone hacking was not widespread.
But Jay said November 14 that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks contained the names of at least 28 people who employed him on 2,266 occasions.
Four individuals – whom Jay did not name – were responsible for almost all the Mulcaire commissions, Jay said.
But the sheer number of names in Mulcaire’s files means the one News of the World journalist jailed over phone hacking, Clive Goodman, “was not a rogue reporter,” Jay said.
Mulcaire and Goodman went to prison in 2007 after admitting hacking into royal family staff messages.
CNN’s Atika Shubert contributed to this report.