Hacking 'made parents think murdered girl was alive'
The parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler told Britain's phone-hacking inquiry Monday they thought she was still alive after the News of the World tabloid deleted some of her messages.
Sally Dowler described how she told her husband "She's picked up her voicemails Bob, she's alive!" after an investigator working for the tabloid erased some of the 13-year-old's voicemails following her disappearance.
The Dowlers were the first victims of illegal hacking by the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper to testify to the televised hearing in London chaired by a senior judge, and were to be followed later by Hollywood star Hugh Grant.
The News of the World, Britain's top-selling Sunday newspaper, was shut down amid public revulsion after revelations about the hacking of Milly's phone emerged in July.
The Dowlers sat beside Grant at the hearing, before taking the stand and telling the inquiry that after Milly went missing in March 2002 they initially checked her voicemails "all the time".
At first, a recorded message left by their daughter before her disappearance would come up, but the voicemail box soon became full and an automatic message would play instead, Sally Dowler said.
But one day, she added, her voice rising with emotion: "I rang her phone and it went on to her voicemail. So I heard her voice, and it was just like I jumped, 'She's picked up her voicemails Bob, she's alive!'"
"I told my friends, 'she's picked up her voicemail, she's picked up her voicemail'."
In fact, Milly had been abducted and was later found murdered. British serial killer Levi Bellfield was convicted of her murder in June this year.
As well as listening to Milly's voicemails, the News of the World's private detective Glenn Mulcaire erased some messages to make room for new ones.
Mulcaire was jailed along with the News of the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on phones belonging to royal aides.
Sally Dowler said that earlier this year, when they were told by police about the hacking of their daughter's phone, "the first thing I thought" was about the deletion of the messages.
"As soon as I was told it was about phone hacking, literally I didn't sleep for about three nights because you replay everything in your mind and just think, 'oh, that makes sense now, that makes sense'."
The couple also described how the newspaper intruded on their grief by using a picture of them retracing Milly's route when she was abducted.
Sally Dowler also said that for the British press, the inquiry was an "opportunity to do things right in future and have some decent standards."
Separately Graham Shear, who is the solicitor for England footballer Ashley Cole and previously represented actor Jude Law, told the inquiry that in 2008, paparazzi began to arrive at his house before his clients did for privately arranged meetings.
The hacking scandal led to the resignations of some of Murdoch's key lieutenants, two of Britain's top policemen and prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to set up the Leveson inquiry into the standards of the British press.
Grant, the star of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill", is expected to say that press intrusion is making the life of the mother of his child a misery.
The actor is expected to condemn paparazzi for hounding Chinese actress Hong Tinglan, the mother of his baby daughter, who was recently granted a High Court injunction prohibiting harassment of her and the child.
Lord Justice Brian Leveson's inquiry will hear this week from other alleged victims of media intrusion, including actress Sienna Miller, Harry Potter author JK Rowling and Gerry McCann, the father of the missing Madeleine McCann.
Leveson has made it clear that the inquiry will hear evidence that the News of the World was not the only newspaper engaging in harassment.
© 2011 AFP