A lawyer for film star Hugh Grant accused a tabloid newspaper group on Tuesday of using intimidatory tactics, saying they risked derailing an inquiry into media standards.
David Sherborne, who is representing a number of victims of intrusion by scoop-hungry newspapers, hit out at the treatment of Grant after the actor told the inquiry he believed he was the victim of phone hacking.
Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the inquiry following disclosures about hacking of mobile phone voice messages by reporters at the News of the World tabloid, a now defunct part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media empire.
The inquiry, which opened last week, is already raising broader questions about the aggressive tabloid press, which trades on stories about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Grant, star of Four Weddings And a Funeral, told the inquiry on Monday that he believed the mid-market Mail on Sunday newspaper had hacked into his phone messages but had no concrete proof.
The Mail on Sunday denied Grant's allegations, issuing a statement calling them mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media.
Sherborne said the comment and coverage on Tuesday in the Daily Mail, the sister paper, went beyond fair comment.
It's the intimidatory nature of it which in my submission is something this inquiry needs to take very seriously, he said, adding that there was a critical distinction between a right of reply and a right of attack.
If those, who have been brave enough to come and give evidence to this inquiry about what they have suffered at the hands of the press, hear that kind of plea in mitigation...we may well face people who are unwilling to be that brave any longer.
Jonathan Caplan, representing Associated Newspapers, which includes the Mail titles, said Grant had made serious allegations that had attracted headlines around the globe.
Mr Grant is entitled to comment as he wishes, but we sought to make the point that that comment was based on the flimsiest of material, Caplan said.
His allegation that the journalists of Associated Newspapers had been involved in phone hacking was utterly refuted.
The inquiry, headed by senior judge Brian Leveson, and expected to last a year, will make recommendations that are likely to have a lasting impact on the industry, leading to tighter media rules or an overhaul of the current system of self-regulation.
(Reporting by Keith Weir; editing by David Stamp)