Bob and Sally Dowler
Bob and Sally Dowler, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, told the Leveson Inquiry journalists left them "scared" to leave the house. Andrew Winning / Reuters

The parents of Milly Dowler have given their emotional evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

Sally Dowler recalled the moment she found out voicemails had been deleted from Milly's phone.

"She's picked up her voicemails, Bob, she's alive!" she said with heightened emotion, telling the inquiry what she had said at the time.

It later transpired that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, acting on behalf of a tabloid newspaper, had been illegally accessing Milly's voicemails.

It's been alleged that Mulcaire then deleted voicemails from the full inbox, to make way for more frantic messages from family members. Mulcaire denies he did this.

When Mrs Dowler discovered her daughter's voicemail had been hacked into, she said the first thing she thought of is the emotional moment when she had hope that her daughter was still alive.

Bob and Sally Dowler were also "scared" to leave the house in fear of being doorstepped by journalists, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.

Mrs Dowler said they always had to be "on guard" when leaving the house as journalists would appear and ask questions "when you are least expecting it".

"However polite people are, at the end of the day you are scared of opening the door because you might be faced with a question," said Mr Dowler.

It was a "regular event" for journalists to knock on their door, he said, but they refused to give comments other than through the police's press office, to prevent a "media war" between news organisations hunting exclusives.

He added that they had to be "careful" with what they said when they were doorstepped as it would be reported the next day in the press.

The parents of Milly Dowler, the schoolgirl who was abducted and murdered in 2002, are the first of the press intrusion victims evidence to the inquiry.

They had described the press as a "double-edged sword".

"[The press] were in the position to help us and they did," said Mrs Dowler.

However the press also subjected them to "persistent questions", "being doorstepped" and being photographed.

The press coverage also meant they got floods of unwelcome letters offering book and film deals.

The Dowlers also told the inquiry about a picture that appeared in a Sunday newspaper of them retracing the last steps of their daughter, some seven weeks after she went missing.

It was a sunny Thursday afternoon and Sally had contacted Bob to say that when he was coming home from work, she would meet him at the train station near where Milly was last seen and walk the way she would have travelled home.

It was a last minute decision, she said, as they went around putting up more posters of their daughter with a contact number for anyone with information.

They hadn't told anybody else, yet a photographer with a telescopic lens had managed to photograph the two on their walk, and a photo soon appear in the press with a story about them retracing their daughter's last steps.

"I remember seeing it and I was really cross. We didn't see anyone ... How on earth did they know we were doing it that day?"

"it felt like such an intrusion," she added.

The two spoke of their "tense" meeting with a "sincere" Rupert Murdoch, the media baron whose parent company owns the News of the World, which is accused of hiring someone to hack the Dowlers' phones.

When asked what their recommendations would be for future regulation of the press, Mr Dowler said that they'll "leave that up to [the inquiry]".

"We want the extent of [press bad behaviour] exposed and then for the inquiry to make suggestions," said Mrs Dowler.