Leveson: Dowlers offer heartbreaking account of press intrusion

On the back foot: The Dowler testimony is likely to be highly damaging to Rupert Murdoch's News International.
On the back foot: The Dwler testimony is likely to be highly damaging to Rupert Murdoch's News International.o

By Ian Dunt

The family of murdered teenager Milly Dowler has delivered a devastating account of press intrusion into their lives as they opened the witness sessions for the Leveson inquiry.

The family, whose experience with the press triggered the most serious chapter of the phone-hacking controversy, described the euphoria they felt when they discovered their daughter's voicemail had been accessed, an event that was actually the result of journalistic interference.

Sally Dowler said the development prompted her to say to her husband: "'She's picked up her voicemails! She is alive!'

"But when we were talked about the hacking that was the first thing I thought."

In emotional and moving testimony to the inquiry last week, the Dowlers' counsel, David Sherborne, described a second intrusion on the Dowlers' lives, when they undertook her final walk weeks after their daughter's disappearance.

"This was no formal reconstruction done with the police," he said.

"It was not for publicity. It was, rather, a private act, a very private moment. But their moment of grief was obviously a photo opportunity too good to resist."

Ms Dowler commented: "It just felt like such an intrusion into a very private grief moment."

Bob Dowler explained how he had gone out of his way to facilitate the relationship with the press following their daughter's disappearance.

"We have always tried to be polite and courteous, and leave it at that," he said.

"We established that we wouldn't give any interviews and do everything through Surrey police office... to prevent a media war."

Ms Dowler added: "Every time we went out the front door we had to be on guard because there might be someone there."

The couple will be followed by a string of celebrities, including Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan.

Jude Law's lawyer and writers Joan Smith and J.K. Rowling will also appear.

Mr Grant issued a damning indictement of the treatment of Tinglan Hong, the Chinese actor recently revealed to be the mother of his baby daughter. Ms Hong was allegedly called after Mr Grant appeared on Question Time to be told by a voice on the other end of the phone: "Tell Hugh Grant to shut the f*ck up."

Later in the week, the parents of missing Madeleine McCann will also appear at the inquiry, where Gerry McCann may repeat that his wife felt "mentally raped" by News of the World's decision to publish her private diary.

Meanwhile, tensions were high at Sky News after lawyers were told to trawl staff emails looking for evidence of stories obtained via illegal methods.

The move is intended to protect the channel, which has won plaudits from across the political spectrum for its coverage of phone-hacking, from the ongoing problems hitting News International.

BSkyB is independent of News Corporation but the Murdoch-owned company is the biggest shareholder, with a 39.1% stake. It recently tried to take over the broadcaster but outrage over phone-hacking prevented the move taking place.

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