REPORTING FROM LONDON -- In poignant testimony, the parents whose ordeal set off Britain's phone-hacking scandal described Monday how the actions of a tabloid-hired private investigator misled them into thinking that their murdered teenage daughter was still alive.
Sally Dowler said she repeatedly called her daughter Milly's cellphone after the girl went missing in 2002, only to discover that the voicemail message box was full. When she finally succeeded in getting through to the 13-year-old's inbox, she was elated.
"She's picked up the voicemails. Bob, she's alive!" Dowler said she told her husband.
But it was a false hope. The Dowlers discovered later that a private investigator engaged by the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World had hacked into Milly's voicemails, deleting some of the messages himself to make room for more, in the newspaper's quest for a scoop on the missing girl.
The Dowlers gave their account Monday at a judge-led inquiry into the way Britain's media, particularly the ferociously competitive tabloids, gather information. The inquiry was set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that exploded this past summer after the story of the Dowlers' experiences was made public.
The Dowlers also recounted their anger at finding a photograph of themselves in a tabloid, taken without their knowledge during a private walk retracing their missing daughter's footsteps.
"They'd obviously taken the picture with some sort of telephoto lens. How on Earth did they know that we were doing that walk on that day? And it felt like just such an intrusion," Sally Dowler said.
The inquiry is to hear evidence this week from other prominent individuals who say they were harassed and followed by tabloid reporters. Actor Hugh Grant was to appear Monday, and later this week, "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling is scheduled to give testimony.
The inquiry is expected to last for months and could result in changes in how Britain's media are regulated.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Bob and Sally Dowler, the parents of murdered teen Milly Dowler, arrive in central London on Monday to give testimony in an inquiry into media standards. Credit: Carl Court / AFP/Getty Images