'She has picked up her voicemails, Bob. She is alive!'

Milly Dowler's mother tells inquiry of false hopes raised by hacking

The psychological trauma inflicted by phone hacking was revealed in full yesterday when the parents of Milly Dowler relived the elation and hope they felt upon suddenly reaching her voicemail and concluding she was still alive.

Sally and Bob Dowler, who were speaking publicly for the first time since the revelation in July that the News of the World had accessed the teenager's phone messages, told the Leveson Inquiry that the scale and gravity of the illegal eavesdropping on voicemails by journalists must be understood by the public.

Sitting beside her husband while a hushed courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice listened, Ms Dowler gave a vivid account of how, after many days of calling her daughter's mobile phone and hearing an automated recording that indicated her voicemail inbox was full, she suddenly heard Milly's recorded voice and was able to leave a message. "I rang her phone," Ms Dowler said. "It clicked through on to her voicemail, so I heard her voice and it was just like: 'She's picked up her voicemails, Bob. She's alive!'" Ms Dowler added: "I told my friends, 'She's picked up her voicemail, She's picked up her voicemail'."

In an incendiary first day of evidence from victims of press intrusion, Lord Leveson also heard:

* A claim by actor Hugh Grant that a story published by the The Mail on Sunday in 2007 about him flirting with a "plummy-voiced" woman could only have come from hacked voicemails.

* Allegations from a solicitor for celebrities and public figures that newspapers routinely balanced the cost of any damages arising from a "kiss and tell" against the revenues the story would generate.

During what seemed at times to be consciously restrained testimony by the Dowlers, whose treatment by the NOTW rendered the brand so toxic that Rupert Murdoch's News International decided to close it, the couple revealed the effects of the hacking when it was finally disclosed to them.

Ms Dowler said: "I didn't sleep for about three nights because you replay everything in your mind and just think, 'Oh, that makes sense now, that makes sense'."

It was only on the eve of the trial of Levi Bellfield, the former bouncer who was convicted of Milly's murder this summer, that the family discovered they had been able to leave their voicemail because messages on her phone had been listened to by the NOTW and deleted – to enable others to be left by her family and friends. Bellfield probably murdered the Surrey schoolgirl within hours of abducting her close to her home in Walton-on-Thames.

Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator employed by the Sunday paper to obtain information and eavesdrop on voicemails, last night insisted he was not personally responsible for deleting messages and "had no reason to do so". In a statement from his solicitor, he said he believed documents set to be released by Surrey Police would "shed light on the actions he took then and the basis of them".

Ms Dowler said she could not remember how detectives reacted when she told them that her daughter seemed to have accessed her voicemails. An investigation by The Independent established last month that Surrey Police knew within the first weeks of the hunt for Milly that the NOTW had been accessing her voicemails but took no action against the paper.

The inquiry heard it was possible that the mobiles of the Dowlers themselves were also accessed after they were photographed on a private walk to retrace their daughter's final steps seven weeks after Milly disappeared in March 2002.

Three days after the couple had carried out the walk, checking "missing" posters pinned up by family and friends, a photograph was published of Ms Dowler reaching up to touch one. She said: "How on earth did they know we were doing that walk on that day? It felt like such an intrusion into a really private grief moment."

Mr Dowler, who along with his wife said there were no specific suggestions they wanted to make for improved press regulation, said there were wider lessons to be learned. "There is a much bigger picture, obviously," he said. "It was extremely important that... people understand exactly what went on."

News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?