NOTW hacking 'made parents think murdered girl was alive'

21st November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The parents of a murdered schoolgirl told Britain's phone-hacking inquiry Monday that they thought she was alive after the News of the World tabloid deleted some of her messages.

Sally and Bob Dowler were the first victims of hacking by the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper to testify to the panel in London chaired by a senior judge, and will be followed later by Hollywood star Hugh Grant.

Sitting beside her husband in a live televised hearing, Sally Dowler said after their 13-year-old daughter Milly went missing in March 2002 they thought she was checking her voicemails because some of them had been erased.

The family initially checked Milly's phone "all the time" on her phone and a recorded message from their daughter came up, but that the voicemail box soon became full and an automatic message would play instead.

But one day, Sally Dowler 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."

In fact, 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.

Milly had been abducted and was later found murdered. British serial killer Levi Bellfield was convicted of Milly's murder in June this year.

The News of the World, Britain's top-selling Sunday newspaper, was shut down after revelations about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone emerged in July.

Sally Dowler added: "When we were told about the hacking that is the first thing I thought."

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, it was an "opportunity to do things right in future and and have some decent standards."

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.

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.

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.

Grant 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.

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.

The inquiry was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron in July.

© 2011 AFP

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