16 Nov 2011

Leveson Inquiry hears of Milly’s family false hope

The Leveson Inquiry has heard that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mother was “euphoric” after accessing her missing daughter’s voicemail after a private detective deleted some of the messages.

David Sherborne, representing 51 alleged victims of press intrusion at Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press standards, spoke of a “terrible intrusion” into the lives of the Dowler family after 13-year-old Milly was abducted in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in March 2002.

News of the World private investigator Glenn Mulcaire listened to the schoolgirl’s voicemails and erased some of them to make room for new messages, giving her family false hope she was still alive, the inquiry was told.

Mr Sherborne told Lord Justice Leveson: “Mr and Mrs Dowler will tell you in their own words what it felt like in those moments when Sally, her mother, finally got through to her daughter’s voicemail after persistent attempts had failed because the box was full, and the euphoria which this belief created, false as it was unfortunately.

“Perhaps there are no words which can adequately describe how despicable this act was.”

Sally finally got through to Milly’s voicemail and was euphoric, false as it wasLawyer David Sherborne

The Dowlers’ grief was also intruded on when the News of the World published a photograph of them privately retracing the route Milly was walking home when she was kidnapped, the inquiry heard.

The inquiry also heard that the mother of Hugh Grant‘s child received threats after the actor spoke out against media intrusion, while Kate McCann felt “mentally raped” when a newspaper published her private diary, the hearing was told.

A former girlfriend of Grant received a sinister phone call when the Hollywood star appeared on a British current affairs programme to discuss the culture of the News of the World, Rupert Murdoch and press standards in general, the inquiry heard.

Mr Sherborne said: “She was threatened in the most menacing terms, which should reverberate around this inquiry: ‘Tell Hugh Grant he must shut the f*** up’.”

In September 2008, the News of the World published Mrs McCann’s personal diary, which she had not even shown to her husband, leaving her feeling “mentally raped”, the inquiry heard.

Mr Sherborne said that poor press standards were not limited to the now defunct News of the World.

“We are here not just because of the shameful revelations which have come out of the hacking scandal, but also because there has been a serious breakdown of trust in the important relationship between the press and the public,” he said.

“It is the whole of the press, and in particular the tabloid section of it, which we say stands in the dock, at least metaphorically so – and certainly in the court of public opinion.”

Mr Sherborne said the charges ranged against newspapers included: phone hacking, “blagging” private information through deception, blackmailing vulnerable or opportunistic people into breaking confidences about well-known people, intruding into the grief of crime victims and hounding celebrities, their families and friends.

The inquiry was adjourned until Monday, when it will begin hearing evidence from witnesses, starting with Milly Dowler’s family.