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Blackmail, threats and mental rape in dirty tricks campaign

A SINGER who had a camera shoved under her skirt, a murdered teenager whose phone was hacked and a grieving mother who felt 'mentally raped' when her private diary was published.

The images invoked in front of an inquiry into the workings of the British press are the stuff of headlines.

The stories may have been devoured by a reading public, hungry for all the gossip of their celebrities, or the 'real' stories behind high-profile tragedies.

Now revelations about how elements of the British press got those stories are set to be just as eagerly lapped up.

The disturbing claims about the treatment of celebrities, families of crime victims and others in the public eye, were laid out in stark detail at one of the opening sessions of the Leveson inquiry into the press.

Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into press standards in the UK heard that both well-known figures like Harry Potter author JK Rowling and previously unknown members of the public had fallen victim to journalistic malpractice.



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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 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."

Mr Sherborne said the charges ranged against newspapers included phone hacking, "blagging" private information through deception, blackmailing vulnerable 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 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 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," said Mr Sherborne.

"Perhaps there are no words which can adequately describe how despicable this act was."

The lawyer also cited the example of retired teacher Christopher Jefferies, whose reputation was destroyed by tabloid newspapers in a "matter of moments" after police arrested him on suspicion of the murder of architect Joanna Yeates in December last year.

Mr Jefferies, who was completely cleared of any involvement in Miss Yeates' death, later said: "I don't think it would be too strong a word to say that it was a kind of rape that had taken place."

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 inquiry has heard claims that Mulcaire's notebooks suggested that at least 28 News Of The World journalists commissioned him to hack phones.

But Neil Garnham, representing Scotland Yard, said police could not confirm that all 28 people named in the private detective's notes worked for the Sunday tabloid.

Among those listening to the submissions in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice in London were Milly's father Bob Dowler, the lawyer to phone hacking victims Mark Lewis and former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who won £60,000 (¤70,000) in 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.

hnews@herald.ie


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