BRITAIN’S press is "in the dock" for abuses ranging from phone hacking
to hounding celebrities and crime victims, the Leveson Inquiry heard
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.
Murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mother Sally experienced "euphoria"
when she got through to her missing daughter’s mobile phone voicemail
after a private detective working for the News of the World deleted some
of the messages.
Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press standards heard that both
well-known figures like Harry Potter author JK Rowling and previously
unknown members of the public have fallen victim to journalistic
David Sherborne, representing 51 alleged victims of press intrusion,
described the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World as an
"Industrial Revolution" that represented a cultural shift away from
But he argued that there were wider problems with Britain’s newspaper
"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.
He highlighted the "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
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."
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.
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.
The parents of Madeleine McCann, who was three when she vanished on
holiday in Portugal in May 2007, were also subjected to "blatant
intrusion" by the press, Mr Sherborne said.
In September 2008, the News of the World published Mrs McCann’s highly
personal diary, which she had not even shown to her husband, leaving her
feeling "mentally raped", the inquiry heard.
Mr Sherborne argued that the freedom of speech enjoyed by Britain’s
media was "only one part of the equation" and had to be balanced against
the right to respect for private life.
"The respect which is given to an individual’s privacy is as much a mark
of a tolerant and mature society — as we like to believe ours is — as a
free and forceful press," he said.
Among those listening to the submissions in Court 73 of the Royal Courts
of Justice in London were Milly’s father Bob Dowler, lawyer to phone
hacking victims Mark Lewis and former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who
received £60,000 (€70,000) in privacy damages over a News of the World
story claiming he took part in a "Nazi orgy".
The inquiry was adjourned until Monday, when it will begin hearing
evidence from witnesses, starting with Milly’s family.