Private detective Glenn Mulcaire tonight denied deleting messages from Milly Dowler’s phone as the murdered schoolgirl’s parents spoke of their agony over the hacking scandal.
The investigator is accused of illegally accessing the teenager’s voicemails after she went missing in 2002 but his solicitor said he had “no reason” to erase any of them.
Milly’s mother Sally told the Leveson Inquiry into press standards that she did not sleep for three nights after police told her Mulcaire had hacked her daughter’s phone.
The private detective's solicitor, Sarah Webb, of law firm Payne Hicks Beach, said Mulcaire had expressed his ``sincere personal sympathy'' for the Dowlers but could not say much because of the ongoing police investigation into hacking.
“He confirms that he did not delete messages and had no reason to do so,” she added in a statement.
Meanwhile, Hugh Grant called on Britain to stand up to “bullying” newspapers today as he accused the Mail on Sunday of listening to his voicemails.
The Four Weddings and a Funeral star clamed in public for the first time that a “bizarre” article in the newspaper in February 2007 could only have come from hacking his phone.
The story alleged that the actor’s relationship with then-girlfriend Jemima Khan was on the rocks because of his “late night phone calls with a plummy-voiced studio executive”, the inquiry heard.
Grant said the “penny dropped” for him recently and he concluded that the article must have been based on messages left on his phone by a Hollywood production executive’s assistant with a voice which could be “only be described as plummy”.
“I cannot for the life of me think of any conceivable source for this story in the Mail on Sunday except those voice messages on my mobile telephone,” he said.
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said: “The Mail on Sunday utterly refutes Hugh Grant’s claim that they got any story as a result of phone hacking.
“In fact in the case of the story Mr Grant refers to the information came from a freelance journalist who had been told by a source who was regularly speaking to Jemima Khan.”
Mrs Dowler told the inquiry of her and her husband Bob’s joy when they were given false hope that Milly was still alive after someone – identified at the hearing as Mulcaire – deleted some of the schoolgirl’s voicemails.
She rang her 13-year-old daughter’s mobile phone repeatedly in the weeks after she vanished, leaving messages for her until the mailbox became full and it switched to a recorded statement.
Mrs Dowler continued calling Milly’s number and felt elation when she finally got through to her recorded greeting.
She told the inquiry: “I rang her phone. It clicked through onto her voicemail, so I heard her voice and it was just like, ’she’s picked up her voicemail, Bob, she’s alive!’
“When we were told about the hacking, that’s the first thing I thought.”
Mrs Dowler described the moment, just before the start of the trial of the serial killer accused of Milly’s murder, when police told her and her husband that Mulcaire was commissioned by the News of the World to hack their daughter’s phone.
“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 think, ’oh, that makes sense now, that makes sense’,” she said.
Mulcaire was jailed along with the News of the World’s former royal editor Clive Goodman in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on phones belonging to royal aides.
Grant told the inquiry it had become “extremely fashionable” to hate him in Britain and said journalists were “entitled to their opinion” but hit out at press intrusion and “lazy reporting”.
The actor said he did not want to see the end of popular print journalism and sought to protect the British instinct to be “sceptical, irreverent, difficult and to take the p***”.
But he went on: “There has been a section of our press that has been allowed to become toxic over the last 20 or 30 years, its main tactic being bullying and intimidation and blackmail.
“I think that that needs a lot of courage to stand up to, and I think this country’s had a historically good record standing up to bullies. I think it’s time this country found the courage to stand up to this bully now.”
Grant told the inquiry he had recent experience of press intrusion over his relationship with Chinese actress Tinglan Hong, who gave birth to his daughter in late September.
The star also claimed that:
:: Mulcaire’s notebooks suggest that material obtained by hacking Grant’s phone - apparently commissioned by a News of the World journalist – ended up in stories in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror;
:: A British newspaper may have broken into his fourth-floor London flat after he was arrested for a “lewd act” with a prostitute in Hollywood in 1995;
:: Police leaked information about celebrities who fell victim to crimes so that a reporter or photographer would turn up on their doorstep before an officer.
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry in July in response to the revelation that the News of the World commissioned Mulcaire to hack Milly’s phone.
The first part of the inquiry is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press in general.
The second part, examining the extent of unlawful activities by journalists, will not begin until detectives have completed their investigation into alleged phone hacking and corrupt payments to police and any prosecutions have concluded.