The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR BOB DOWLER AND MRS SALLY DOWLER (sworn).

  • Please sit down. If at any stage you need a break, don't hesitate to say so.

    Before we start, can I thank you both for being prepared to come to the Inquiry. You've done so voluntarily and I'm very conscious that it's a strain. I can only sympathise to both of you for the appalling losses that you've suffered and the traumas that you've undergone over many years. So I'm very appreciative to both of you for being prepared to expose yourself further to assist me in the work that I have to do, so thank you very much.

  • You are, respectively, Sally and Bob Dowler. I'm not going to ask you to provide your home address. You've provided a professional address.

    Can I ask you though, please, to confirm the witness statement which has been signed on 3 November. There's a statement of truth at the end of that statement. Do you confirm the truth of that statement?

  • Mr Sherborne has one or two questions for you and then I will ask some further questions.

  • With your permission, may I ask a few introductory questions?

    Good morning. I appreciate you may be nervous. I know your last experience was a difficult one. I'm not going to ask you detailed questions about your statement -- Mr Jay will do that in a minute -- but can I begin by asking you: we all know that it was the revelation publicly in July of this year that Milly's phone had been hacked into by people acting on behalf of the News of the World which led to the setting up of this Inquiry. Can I ask you how you feel about that?

  • I'll answer this one. I think the gravity of what had happened needs to be investigated. I think there's a much bigger picture, obviously, but I think that given that we learnt about those hacking revelations just before the trial for the murder of our daughter, it was extremely important that we understood and people understand exactly what went on in terms of these practices to uncover this information from the hacking situation.

  • And prior to you discovering about Milly's phone, did you read stories about other people, including well-known people, whose phones had also been hacked into?

  • Yes. We'd obviously been aware of the Sienna Miller situation and also Gordon Taylor. We certainly followed that in the media and were very much aware that, certainly from the celebrity awareness viewpoint, that was going to be an issue, but of course not realising until we were informed about hacking in our situation that it spread much wider than just celebrity.

  • How did you feel about the fact that there were other people whose phones had also been hacked? What impact, if anything, did that have on your case?

  • Well, fundamentally, everybody's entitled to a degree of privacy in their private life, and it's a deep concern that our private life became public, but I think also that other people who are in the public eye, their private life become public as well.

  • We know that in time you instructed Mark Lewis, the solicitor. Can you just explain how you came to instruct Mr Lewis?

  • Well, it was during the trial. Just before the trial we'd found out about Milly's phone being hacked. When we were given that information, it was like terribly difficult to process it because what do you do with that information when it's in your mind? And I was worried about the sort of forthcoming trial, but also aware of what had happened with Sienna Miller and things, and thinking we ought to -- we ought to get some representation, but I was frightened of doing that because we didn't have any money for that, so I didn't quite know how we were going to do that.

    Then I found Mark Lewis on the Internet and left a message on his phone and he phoned straight back and said, "Please come and see me."

  • What was your aim, your objective, in going to see Mr Lewis?

  • I think very much just to be in a position to respond to what would possibly become quite a public -- how would we deal with that? Because we'd been given that information but no advice as to what to do with it, but recognising, of course, that that -- I suppose to use the words quite powerful, quite dynamite information to suddenly be aware of and realising, as has come to pass, that when made public, suddenly everybody got very, very, very excited and very -- yes, motivated about the whole situation, so ...

  • Can I ask you just a question about your legal representation? Did you have the money to pay for legal advice?

  • So how were you able to pursue a complaint against News International?

  • When we went to see Mark, which -- I have to say it was a really difficult thing to do because it was during the trial and it was like: "We've got to do this, Bob, because we need someone to represent us", and literally dragged ourselves along to that meeting, and he said, "You don't need to worry about the money, Sally. I will represent you come what may", and then actually with regard -- we were able to use a CFA agreement, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to proceed.

  • Can I finally ask you this: we know that the News of the World settled your claim in July of this year, and you heard my opening submissions and you heard the opening submissions of the other media representatives. What, if anything, would you like to say to News International now?

  • I think, given the gravity of what became public, the main knowledge about what had happened about our phone-hacking situation and the circumstances under which it took place, one would sincerely hope that News International and other media organisations would sincerely look very carefully at how they procure, how they obtain information about stories, because obviously the ramifications are far greater than just an obvious story in the press.

  • And I think as our daughter Gemma said to Mr Murdoch when we met him: "Use this as an opportunity to put things right in future and to have some decent standards and adhere to them."

  • Thank you very much. If you just wait there, Mr Jay will have some further questions.

  • It's obviously fitting you should be the Inquiry's first witnesses. I'm going to ask you first of all to deal with paragraph 7 of your witness statement, please. This is the private walk which occurred in May 2002. Do you follow me?

  • Can I ask you, please, to tell us about that in your own words. You say it wasn't a formally organised walk?

  • What was its purpose, please?

  • Well, it was seven weeks after Milly had gone missing, so a lot of the sort of initial media hype had died down a little bit, and it was a Thursday and that was the day that she'd gone missing and it was quite a sunny afternoon and she would have come home about 4 o'clock, and I remember calling Bob and thinking actually, he'd gone up to London on that day, into the office, and I said to him: "Why don't you come back to Walton and then I'll meet you there and we'll do that walk back?" Because so many questions are just buzzing around in your head -- why didn't anyone see her, et cetera, et cetera -- and it was a very last-minute argument, so it was maybe an hour or two before that I phoned Bob and said, "Look, I want to do this. I'm going to meet you at the station and we'll walk back together."

  • Previously, there had been a lot of press and things at the station but now it had calmed down a bit and when we actually got there, there was no one there. It was empty.

  • So simply one of the police officers that I was working with, one of our fellows dropped me at the station. I met Bob and then we just basically quietly retraced her steps and no one was really around, so it was very much like the day she'd actually gone missing, and we put out missing leaflets with her photograph and a telephone number on, and that number had been changed, and I was checking the posters to see if the number -- if the right poster was up, and as I walked along, I was sort of touching the posters.

    And we walked back to our house, which is maybe three-quarters of a mile, something like that, and that was on the Thursday, and then on the Sunday, that photograph appeared in the News of the World and I can remember seeing it and I was really cross because we didn't see anyone. They'd obviously taken the picture with some sort of telephoto lens. How on earth did they know we were doing that walk on that day? And it just felt like such an intrusion into a really, really private grief moment, really.

  • Yes. So it goes without saying you were completely unaware at the time that people were watching you, as it were?

  • We have the article. I'm not going to ask that it be put on the screen, but as you know it's exhibited to your witness statement. We can draw our own inferences as to where the photographer must have been. Some distance, of course, in front of you.

  • Yes. I don't know where he would have been to take those pictures. Maybe in a parked car down Rydens Road somewhere. I don't know.

  • But you see from the picture that we're basically just walking along, completely immersed in the moment, is the honest phrase, I suppose, I would use, and just Sally suddenly saw the poster and decided to check it.

  • Yes. We see on the second page that they do give the Surrey Police reward, top line, for what its worth.

  • Did you make any complaint about this beyond telephoning the police family liaison officer, do you recall?

  • No. No, I just phoned -- did phone our FLO on that day and had a little bit of a .rant.

  • And asked, "How did they get this picture?" But in the scheme of things, at the time, more importantly was the fact that Milly was missing.

  • Yes, of course.

  • And that was more mind-consuming.

  • It wouldn't have entered your mind, presumably, to contact the Press Complaints Commission?

  • Not at that time, no.

  • And we'd agreed that we would do all our press communications through the Surrey Police press office, for obvious reasons, anyway.

  • In paragraph 10 of your statement -- it may be Mr Dowler can better deal with this, but I'm in your hands -- you refer to situations when you were doorstepped by journalists and photographers. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, please?

  • Certainly. It became quite a regular event for people to knock on the door. We'd established that we wouldn't do any interviews, we'd actually only do everything through the Surrey Police press office, for the simple reason of not wanting to create any media war between a particular publication having an access which they might consider, let's say, exclusive, but certainly -- it was fine, it was polite, and I think at the end of the day our response was the same, it always has been the same: we won't do -- and even recently, we've been doorstepped in recent times as well.

    But I think the thing that was probably quite difficult was that on our own property, I was out the front on our front drive, probably putting something in our recycling bin or something, and suddenly this person just hopped from behind the hedge and approached me. It was just at the moment -- I remember it specifically because it was the time that the head of the investigation of the Surrey Police team was changed, and he immediately said to me, "What do you think of the head of the investigation being changed?" And I mean, really, it was a sort of, well, what possibly am I going to say? Fortunately, I had the foresight to think: well, actually, I'm not going to say anything, just say I have no comment, and I think -- I don't know -- I think he might have introduced which media he was from, but I think something, you know, appeared in the paper probably the next day to say, you know, "Mr Dowler said, 'No comment', or something to that effect, but for the simple reason that obviously, you know, as we said, to try and avoid giving specifics, because once you engage in one question, then there's the next question, and then you're engaged in a discussion and that, I guess, de facto, becomes an interview, doesn't it?

  • I think, in fact, every time we went out the front door, it's like you had to be on guard because someone might be there and they would come up to you when you're least expecting it, so as you're sort of lifting stuff in and out of the car or something, and then they'll fire a question at you without introducing themselves, and so you have to train yourself not to answer.

  • Yes. Maybe you feel the pressure of staying from that sort of tactic altogether, doorstepping you. Is that what you feel?

  • I think it's quite concerning, because I think however polite people are, at the end of the day, you really are afeared to open your front door because you're faced with a question.

  • And however you respond to that question might then lead to a headline of one line or two, and that's obviously difficult to deal with, so I think -- but we've always tried to be polite and courteous and leave it at that.

  • Yes. Of course, I have to ask you next about Milly's phone and the voicemail interception. You deal with this at paragraphs 13 to 15 of the witness statement.

    First of all, in trying to fix this into the chronology, you think this must have been in April or May 2002; is that correct?

  • Yes, it was quite soon after she'd gone missing because where she actually was abducted was opposite this building called the Bird's Eye building down by Walton station and there were CCTV cameras on the Bird's Eye building, so everything really focused around these CCTV cameras. So we were asked to go up and have a look at some of the CCTV to see if we thought someone on it was Milly.

  • And -- do you want me to tell you about what happened?

  • Yes. Well, first of all, you tell us that you were phoning in to Milly's voicemail?

  • Quite regularly, presumably?

  • To see whether there was anything else there?

  • Yes. Of course, all the time we were -- at first, we were able to leave messages, and then her voicemail became full and then you rang and then you just got the recorded "We are unable to leave messages at the moment".

  • This had gone -- so I was used to hearing that and we'd gone up to the Bird's Eye building to look at the CCTV and we were sitting downstairs in reception and I rang her phone.

  • And it clicked through onto her voicemail, so I heard her voice, and it was just like -- I jumped -- "She's picked up her voicemails, Bob, she's alive", and I just -- it was then, really. Look, when we were told about the hacking, that is the first thing I thought.

  • Yes. So your immediate reaction was to phone Gemma; is that right?

  • Gemma, yes, I spoke to Gemma, and then it sort of died down afterwards because you're thinking: is that the only reason it could have happened or what have you, but it was the -- like I told my friends: "She's picked up her voicemail, she's picked up her voicemail."

  • That is certainly a reasonable inference. Can you tell us anything about the police reaction when you shared that with them?

  • Well, I remember telling -- all I can remember is that they told us they'd put some credit on her phone because she had a -- she was very low -- well, she had no credit on her phone, and -- yeah, I can only really remember them telling us they'd put some credit on her phone.

  • Yes, and when you told them that you'd managed to get through to the voicemail message, did that excite any particular reaction from the police?

  • I can't really remember that.

  • I think one of the FLOs was with us, I think, wasn't he, at the Bird's Eye building, but it's -- unfortunately, I mean, that's nine years ago, for us to remember the details, so I'm sorry --

  • Whether it had an impact on the police investigation is a matter of speculation?

  • It's something for them, isn't it? Because at the end of the day, it was their investigation.

  • And then much later on -- this was shortly before the criminal trial -- you learnt from the police that the voicemail had been hacked into by the News of the World?

  • April of this year, I think?

  • Certainly by Mr Mulcaire or -- I think specifically that's what we were told.

  • Yes. What was your immediate reaction to that piece of news?

  • Well, we got a call from our FLO to say that the Met Police wanted to see us and to tell us vaguely what it was about. And as soon as I was told it was about phone hacking, literally I didn't sleep for about three nights because you replay everything in your mind and just thinking: "Oh, that makes sense now, that makes sense." And then we went along to the meeting and I said to them about this instance in the Bird's Eye reception and also about walking back from the station were the two things that, at the time, I'd thought: "This is odd. Something untoward is going on."

  • Yes. So in your mind, you made an immediate connection with the dialling into the voicemail that you've told us about and also a possible connection with the private walk you told us about?

  • I think the thing to remember, of course, is that the walk was nothing to do with Milly's phone, so that could only have come from --

  • Yeah, that was our home phones or our own mobile phones.

  • Yes. Thank you for that, and we know for obvious reasons, namely the fact of the criminal trial, that this was information you could not share more widely until the trial had concluded, and we also know that the date of the revelation in the press, I think, was 4 July of this year, so it fits into the chronology.

    Can I ask you some wider questions? You referred to the press being a double-edged sword. It's obvious, I suppose. You had to engage to some extent in order to assist the police in their inquiries. On the other hand, there was a very important domain which was private. Is there anything else you would like to assist the Inquiry about in relation to the double-edged nature of what you might have had to do at that time?

  • Well, I think in essence with our situation, you have to remember we were really, really desperate for some information about Milly, and so the press were in a position to be able to help us and they did get the message out that she was missing and lots of information came in to the police headquarters. But on the other hand, the persistent being asked questions and being doorstepped and everything else that's associated with it and all the letters that you get requesting books, films, interviews ...

  • I think -- the point I made just now is that I follow the media over the years quite a bit more than Sally does, and certainly recognise that it's very important that we would try to be as consistent as we could when dealing with the media and not to actually give any one party a particular position or angle for the very reason of actually not wanting to create another set of issues to deal with, because in fact in the early days, those first six months, of course, we were in a very desperate situation and in fact it -- it's unprecedented in your normal life for most people. How do you deal with it? How do you deal with these things? So we tried as best we could to be as balanced as we could about it, but recognising, of course, that things are outside of your own control.

  • Yes. It's plainly well outside your own experience. You had to rely on your own judgment in an entirely unique situation. Did you get any help from -- you talked about police liaison officers. Presumably they did give you considerable assistance at this time?

  • Very much so. The FLOs, yeah, they were brilliant. They really helped us. And Surrey Police press office were co-ordinating things, so they took the majority of the burden off of us.

  • And we chose that route, as well. That was definitely the route we wanted to go.

  • I'm not going to ask you about the settlement of your civil claim, but could I just ask you about -- you referred to a meeting with Mr Rupert Murdoch, which I think was probably about the 12th or 13 July. The date isn't going to matter. Presumably that was a difficult meeting for both of you; is that right? When I say "both of you", I mean both of you and for Mr Murdoch?

  • Yes, it was a very tense meeting.

  • He made it clear that what had happened was totally unacceptable, didn't he?

  • He did, yes. Yes, he was very sincere.

  • You refer to a letter from the then CEO of the company and a meeting with the Prime Minister, which I don't think it's necessary to go into unless you would like to.

    Can I ask you, though, both of you, about the section of your statement which deals with the future. You touched on this a little bit, Mr Dowler. This Inquiry is here to consider press culture, practices and ethics, to some extent looking back in time, but it's looking at the present and will look at the future. It's also here to make some recommendations. This is your chance. Is there anything you would like to suggest to Lord Justice Leveson for him to think about at this stage?

  • I think when we went to see the three party leaders and the Prime Minister, we were asked that question at that time and the problem that Sally and I have -- we're ordinary people so we have no experience in such a public life situation and certainly no experience from a media control, media involvement situation, so it's always been on our own best judgment as to how we've dealt with these matters.

  • I think it was more we wanted the extent of it exposed and then the Inquiry could make the decisions.

  • Yes. I mean, it appears to the Inquiry that your judgment has been, if I may say so, extremely well exercised throughout in very difficult circumstances and we understand and appreciate that. If you have anything more general which you would invite the Inquiry to think about -- but if not, there's no problem. We will be thinking --

  • I think we'll leave that up to you.

  • I'm sorry, we're not --

  • How very generous of you. Thank you.

  • I have no further questions for you, but I'm extremely grateful for your evidence and the way in which you've kindly and frankly answered my questions. Thank you very much.

  • Thank you very much.

    Mr Sherborne, I think you're entitled to make an application as you're acting for the Dowlers, but is there any other question that you want to ask?

  • I have no further questions.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Thank you very much for coming.

  • May I break for five minutes before we call our next witness?

  • Yes, certainly. Five minutes.

  • (A short break)

  • Right. Yes.

  • Good morning. I'm going to call the next witness, Ms Smith.