Sally and Bob Dowler at the Leveson inquiry

Bob and Sally Dowler told the Leveson inquiry how they were repeatedly doorstepped by journalists

The parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler told the Leveson inquiry today of their fear of opening their front door as a result of the regular doorstepping and questions from journalists while their daughter was missing in 2002 and more recently.

Giving evidence to the public inquiry Milly's parents Bob and Sally Dowler recalled their experience of dealing with the press, describing doorstepping as a "regular event".

"We had already established that we wouldn't do any interviews ... not wanting to create any media war between particular publications having access that they may consider exclusive. It was fine, it was polite and at the end of the day our response was the same."

He added that the family have also been doorstepped "in recent times too".

"You are afraid to open the front door because you're faced with a question and how you respond may lead to a headline of one line or two. We always tried to be polite and courteous and leave it at that."

Sally Dowler also spoke of her anger at finding out her and her husband Bob were reportedly photographed retracing the last steps of their daughter, saying it "felt like such an intrusion into a really, really private grief moment".

"We had put out missing leaflets and I was checking the posters to see if the right one was up and we walked back to our house and that was on the Thursday.

"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 ... how on earth did they know we were doing that walk on that day? It felt like such an intrusion into a really, really private grief moment."

She added that she did phone the police family liaison officer about the incident and "had a bit of a rant" but added that "in the scheme of things at the time more important was the fact Milly was missing".

In her evidence Sally also described the moment she was made to believe her daughter was alive as messages from her phone appeared to have been "picked up".

"At first we were able to leave messages then the voicemail became full. I was used to hearing that and then we had gone up to look at CCTV ... and I rang her phone and it clicked through onto her voicemail so I heard her voice. It was just like I jumped: 'She picked up her voicemails Bob, she is alive'."

The Guardian reported earlier this year that Milly's phone had allegedly been hacked and messages deleted.

"The gravity of what had happened needed to be investigated," Bob Dowler told the inquiry.

"Given that we learnt about these hacking revelations just before the trial for the murder of our daughter it was extremely important people understand exactly what went on."

When asked what he would like to say to News International today he added: "One would sincerely hope News International and other media organisations would look very carefully as how they procure information and obtain information about stories because the ramifications are far greater."

Milly's parents added that they would leave any further recommendations to the inquiry and Lord Leveson, having earlier described why dealing with the press had been, as the legal representative described it, "a double-edged sword".

"You have to remember we were really, really desperate for information, 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 into the police headquarters, but on the other hand we were being asked questions, doorstepped and everything else, letters requesting books, films, interviews."

Bob added: "I have followed the media over the years more than Sally and I certainly recognised it was very important we tried to be as consistent as we could and not give any one party a position or angle, not wanting to create another set of issues to deal with.

"In the early days we were in a very desperate situation. Unprecedented in normal life for most people. We tried as best we could to be as balanced as we could about it but also recognising some things are outside your own control."

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