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Joan Smith

Joan Smith: There's a camaraderie among those of us who were victims

The 'core participant victim' on the day she gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

I woke long before the alarm and was out of the house by eight. Then I got a bus to my solicitor's office where I joined Milly Dowler's parents, Bob and Sally for coffee. We spent half an hour going over final details as we prepared to give evidence at Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into the ethics of the press.

In the lobby, I said hello to Max Mosley and someone introduced me to Hugh Grant. Then we were outside, ready for the short walk to the High Court and the waiting media.

Even when you are expecting it, the massed ranks of cameras are a sight to behold. As I walked towards them, slightly ahead of Bob and Sally Dowler, I heard the endless click of shutters, as though a flock of birds had been startled by our arrival. Inside, we got the lift to the second floor and entered court 73, where I greeted more alleged victims, Elle Macpherson's former adviser Mary-Ellen Field and journalist Tom Rowland. After just a week of formal hearings, a camaraderie has developed among the core participant victims, as we're known.

Mr and Mrs Dowler were the first witnesses and Lord Leveson treated them with gentle courtesy, thanking them for agreeing to appear. The moment when Mrs Dowler described finding space in her missing daughter's voicemail – the mailbox had previously been full – electrified the room. Naturally Mrs Dowler fell to the conclusion that Milly was alive, not realising that her messages had been accessed and deleted by people working for the News of the World. The story is familiar by now – it triggered the setting up of the inquiry – but to hear it in her own words was almost unbearable.

There was a brief recess before it was my turn. A barrister for the inquiry, Carine Patry Hoskins, asked if I regard myself as a celebrity, which made me laugh – a rare light moment in a mostly sombre and often gruelling day.

Like the other alleged hacking victims I'm aware of the irony that complaining about tabloid intrusion means having to talk about my private life. That is something Hugh Grant clearly felt hard, although the court laughed when he described having to make a press statement in trying circumstances: "I was dressed as a cannibal at the time."

Yesterday's evidence ranged far beyond phone hacking to cover aspects of media intrusion, and Lord Leveson is keen to hear witnesses' ideas about how to reform the press.

We are only at the beginning of a long process, but I don't think that powerful, ethical journalism has anything to fear from this inquiry.