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British press ‘in the dock’ over range of abuses

Original Source: IRISH EXAMINER: 17 NOVEMBER 2011
By Sam Marsden and Katie Hodge 
Thursday, November 17, 2011

BRITAIN’S press is "in the dock" for abuses ranging from phone hacking to hounding celebrities and crime victims, the Leveson Inquiry heard yesterday.


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 malpractice.


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 old-fashioned journalism.


But he argued that there were wider problems with Britain’s newspaper culture.


"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 was told.


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.


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