Testimony from Sally Dowler brought back intense moments: “I rang her phone and it clicked through onto voicemail, so I heard her voice. And it was just: ‘She’s picked up her voicemails Bob! She’s alive!’”
News that journalists from Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid newspaper had hacked into murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone, raising false hope, revolted the British public and led to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics.
Murdoch apologised to the family: “I just said that as founder of the company I was appalled to find out what had happened and I apologised and I have nothing further to say.”
But that was not enough to save the tabloid. News of the World closed in July 2011.
Over the course of a year, the Leveson inquiry saw well-known people give evidence – including actor Hugh Grant, singer Charlottle Church and writer J K Rowling – repeatedly saying that aggressive intrusion by the press had affected their lives. It seemed to bear out the reputation that journalism in the UK was a practice of the ‘dark arts’.
Leveson also heard from the parents of Madeleine McCann, whose mother talked about a tabloid getting hold of her diary.
Kate McCann said: “I felt totally violated. I had written those words and thoughts at the most desperate time in my life.”
The inquiry also exposed a close relationship between Prime Minister David Cameron and former News International boss Rebekah Brooks, and among senior politicians and top police officers.
Lord Leveson has called for a new independent body to regulate the press, backed by law. But BBC political editor Nick Robinson stressed that the UK will maintain a free press.
Robinson said: “There won’t be state censorship. There is no chance of there being state censorship. There is not a single leading politician who is in favour of state censorship. There is not a single leading politician who is in favour of a government regulator. The debate is: if you have a regulator for the press – as you have now – has the law got some sort of role in recognising that body?”
At the head of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell insisted that bad journalism is heavily outweighed by good.
Satchwell said: “What really is at stake is that the press must be left to carry those five million stories which actually help protect the freedom of the public in many other ways. They fight injustice and they campaign for little people, for ordinary people.”
Others argue that without sweeping changes to media ownership laws, the problem will never really be solved.