Phone hacking 'wrecked the lives of victims'

J K Rowling, Charlotte Church and Dowlers to tell of terrible cost to their families of tabloid pursuit

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The Independent Online

The human cost of the intrusive practices deployed by the worst of Britain's tabloid newspapers, which has helped to destroy the trust between the public and the press, has been graphically described to the Leveson Inquiry.

In a direct and at times angry summary of the highly personal and emotional testimonies that will be given to the inquiry over the next few weeks, the lawyer representing 51 victims who are participating in the judicial hearings said the "whole of the press, and in particular the tabloid section of it, now stands in the dock".

Departing from legal and academic arguments on future press regulation, David Sherborne turned the inquiry's attention to the life-changing pain, family destruction and in some cases suicides that have occurred after reckless press intrusion.

He described the grief that engulfed the parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. In early 2002 Bob and Sally Dowler learnt that a voicemail had been deleted from their missing daughter's mobile phone. They thought it could mean only one thing: their daughter was still alive. However their "euphoria" was misplaced. The News of the World had hacked into their daughter's phone and deleted messages.

The parents' phone would also be targeted by the NOTW. Mr Sherborne described how Mr and Mrs Dowler were tailed and photographed as they retraced their daughter's last steps. It was supposed to be a private emotionally charged journey. The paper ran the story under the headline: "Mile of Grief".

Other victims' accounts offered by Mr Sherborne included the fallout from an exposé by the NOTW of the former international motorsport boss Max Mosley. Although successful in a legal action against the paper, Mr Sherborne said the "terrible post-script" of the story was that Mr Mosley's son, who suffered from depression, later died of an overdose. Tabloid hounding was, Mr Mosley believes, a contributing factor in his son's death. The inquiry was also told of the attempted suicide of the mother of Charlotte Church after the paper revealed that Ms Church's father had been having an affair. The paper also revealed that the Welsh singer was pregnant before she had told her parents.

The former footballer Gary Flitcroft, according to Mr Sherborne, would tell the inquiry that the excessive intrusion into his private life – including being followed by helicopters and having his children teased at school – was, he believed, a factor in his father's suicide.

The Harry Potter author, JK Rowling, will tell the inquiry how she felt like a "prisoner" when her books shot her to fame. The press camped outside her home; her young children had notes placed inside their school bags; and photographers followed her on holiday.

Although the Leveson Inquiry was ordered as a result of phone hacking, Mr Sherborne said: "We are here not just because of the shameful revelations that have come out of the hacking scandal." He accused certain newspaper editors as being "members of the 'see no, speak no, hear no evil' brigade" and accused them of complacency in how their industry operated.

Leveson diary

Monday 21 November

Sally and Bob Dowler, parents of murdered Milly, whose phones were hacked by the News of the World.

Hugh Grant, actor, whose pregnant former girlfriend allegedly received threatening phone calls.

Joan Smith, novelist and activist, targeted by tabloids over her relationship with the Labour MP Denis MacShane.

Tuesday 22 November

Garry Flitcroft, former footballer who alleges that pursuit of his family played a role in his father's suicide.

Mary-Ellen Field, former assistant to the model Elle Macpherson, wrongly blamed for leaked stories.

Steve Coogan, actor whose phone was hacked by the NOTW.

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