'Entire press' in the dock, lawyer tells UK inquiry

16th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A lawyer told an inquiry into British media standards Wednesday the entire press was in the dock, and the problems went beyond the News of the World phone-hacking scandal that sparked the probe.

David Sherborne listed a string of well-known figures, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, actor Hugh Grant and the mother of missing toddler Madeleine McCann who claimed they had fallen victim to media malpractice.

He also described the false hope given to the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler after a private detective working for the News of the World tabloid hacked her phone and deleted voicemail messages.

The probe, led by senior judge Brian Leveson, was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that closed the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World in July and has rocked the British establishment.

But Sherborne, who is representing 51 alleged victims of press intrusion, emphasised the inquiry would have a broad focus.

"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."

Charges against newspapers included phone hacking, blackmail, intruding into the grief of crime victims and hounding celebrities, their families and friends, said Sherborne.

Turning to the hacking scandal, he described how Dowler's mother felt "euphoria" when she was able to get through to her missing daughter's mobile phone voicemail box, which had previously been full.

This led her to believe that her murdered daughter, abducted in March 2002, was still alive. In reality, the messages were deleted by private detective Glenn Mulcaire when he accessed the phone for the News of the World.

"Perhaps there are no words which can adequately describe how despicable this act was," said Sherbone.

Mulcaire was jailed alongside the News of the World's royal editor Clive Goodman in 2007 after they admitted hacking into royal aides' phones.

The inquiry is expected to make its recommendations by September.

© 2011 AFP

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