Author J.K. Rowling told a U.K. media ethics inquiry Thursday how she felt “under siege” from intrusive journalists, who staked out her house and even went so far as to slip a note into her 5-year-old daughter’s school bag.
The creator of boy wizard Harry Potter said media interest began shortly after the publication of her first novel in 1997 and soon escalated, with photographers and reporters frequently stationed outside her home.
“It feels threatening to have people watching you,” she said.
Once, her daughtercame home from primary school and Rowling found a letter from a journalist in the child’s backpack.
“I felt such a sense of invasion,” Rowling said. “It’s very difficult to say how angry I felt that my 5-year-old daughter’s school was no longer a place of complete security from journalists.”
By the time her younger children were born in 2003 and 2005, Rowling said, the scrutiny was “like being under siege and like being a hostage.”
Rowling was the latest in a string of prominent people to tell the inquiry about the distressing effect on their lives of intense press interest.
Earlier Thursday, actress Sienna Miller said she was left paranoid and scared by years of relentless tabloid pursuit that ranged from paparazzi outside her house to the hacking of her mobile phone.
Miller said the surveillance, and a stream of personal stories about her in the tabloids, led her to accuse friends and family of leaking information to the media. In fact, her cell phone voice mails had been hacked by Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.
Miller, 29, became a tabloid staple when she dated fellow actor Jude Law. She said the constant scrutiny left her feeling “very violated and very paranoid and anxious, constantly.”
“I felt like I was living in some sort of video game,” she said.
She called the paparazzi focus terrifying.
“For a number of years I was relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily,” she said. “Spat at, verbally abused.
“I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal.”
Miller, the star of “Layer Cake” and “Alfie,” was one of the first celebrities to take the News of the World to court over illegal eavesdropping. In May, the newspaper agreed to pay her 100,000 pounds ($160,000) to settle claims her phone had been hacked.
The newspaper’s parent company now faces dozens of lawsuits from alleged hacking victims.
Miller, who looked confident as she gave evidence at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, said it was a difficult decision to challenge Murdoch’s media empire.
“I was very nervous about taking on an empire that was richer and far more powerful than I will ever be,” she said. “It was very daunting.”
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry amid a still-unfolding scandal over illegal eavesdropping by the Murdoch-owned tabloid. Murdoch closed down the News of the World in July after evidence emerged that it had illegally accessed the mobile phone voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even crime victims in its search of scoops.
More than a dozen News of the World journalists and editors have been arrested over allegations of illegal eavesdropping, and the scandal has also claimed the jobs of two top London police officers, Cameron’s media adviser and several senior Murdoch executives.
The inquiry, led by Judge Brian Leveson, plans to issue a report next year and could recommend major changes to media regulation in Britain.
Miller took the stand after another witness was allowed to give evidence in private. The courtroom was cleared of the press as the witness, identified only as HJK, testified about suffering intrusions while in a relationship with a well-known figure, whose identity was also kept secret.
Also testifying Thursday was former Formula One boss Max Mosley, who has campaigned for a privacy law since his interest in sadomasochistic sex was exposed in the News of the World.
Mosley successfully sued the News of the World over a 2008 story headlined “Formula One boss has sick Nazi orgy with five hookers.” Mosley has acknowledged theorgy, but argued that the story — obtained with a hidden camera — was an “outrageous” invasion of privacy. He said the Nazi allegation was damaging and “completely untrue.”
Mosley said he has had stories about the incident removed from 193 websites around the world, and is currently taking legal action “in 22 or 23 different countries,” including proceedings against search engine Google in France and Germany.
“The fundamental thing is that Google could stop this appearing but they don’t or won’t as a matter of principle,” he said.
“You work all your life to try and achieve something or do something useful,” Mosley added. “And suddenly something like this happens and that’s what you’re remembered for.”
High-profile witnesses still to come include CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan, who has denied using phone hacking while he was editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper.
The hearings have heard allegations of media malpractice and intrusion that extend far beyond the News of the World.
Witnesses have included celebrities like actor Hugh Grant and ordinary people pursued in times of grief, including the parents of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose voice mails were accessed by the News of the World after she disappeared in 2002.