Britain's tabloid 'paid $528,000' for Hugh Grant prostitute scoop

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's News of the World tabloid paid out £250,000 (S$528,000) for an exclusive interview with Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown after she was caught performing oral sex on actor Hugh Grant, the phone-hacking trial heard on Thursday.

Rebekah Brooks, a former editor and executive at the Rupert Murdoch-owned title, said Ms Brown was paid around £100,000 but large sums were also spent moving her and her family to a desert hideout to stop other papers stealing the 1995 scoop.

"It was probably one of the biggest expenses that I had ever dealt with. It was a lot of money," said Brooks, who was features editor of the News of the World at the time, of the £250,000.

Brooks, 45, was giving testimony at her trial at London's Old Bailey court on charges of phone hacking, paying a public official for information and trying to conceal evidence from the police.

"Four Weddings and a Funeral" star Grant, 53, was arrested with Brown on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on June 27, 1995, sparking headlines around the world.

The News of the World secured an exclusive interview with Brown, whose real name is Estella Marie Thompson, and went to great lengths to stop rival papers from spoiling it.

"There was a huge interest, and once we had found Divine Brown there was an expectation that the (Daily) Mail and The Sun would not be far behind," Brooks told the court.

"And so we asked Divine Brown if she would move from her home where she had gone back to, to a different location. From memory, she wanted to take quite a number of her family with her. It was quite a lot of people."

Brooks said the News of the World hired a plane to fly Brown and her family to a resort in "the desert", which she thought was Nevada - an enterprise that completely blew her weekly spending limit of £50,000 to £60,000.

"It all seems so silly now but actually it was really important," she said.

In a photograph accompanying the interview, Brown modelled a revealing Versace dress similar to the one famously worn not long before by Grant's then girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley.

However, rival Sunday tabloid The People went one further with a front-page picture of the prostitute naked.

A few weeks after the arrests, Brown was sentenced to 180 days in jail for lewd conduct and violating her probation on several prostitution convictions.

Meanwhile, Grant managed to salvage his reputation by giving a series of contrite television interviews.

Since the hacking scandal, the British actor has become one of the most high-profile campaigners for tighter press regulation.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.