Missing Milly Dowler's voicemail was hacked by News of the World
- Deleted voicemails gave family false hope
- Hacking interfered with police hunt
- Family lawyer: actions 'heinous and despicable'
The News of the World illegally targeted the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler and her family in March 2002, interfering with police inquiries into her disappearance, an investigation by the Guardian has established.
Scotland Yard are investigating the episode, which is likely to put new pressure on the then editor of the paper, Rebekah Brooks, now Rupert Murdoch's chief executive in the UK; and the then deputy editor, Andy Coulson, who resigned in January as the prime minister's media adviser.
Milly's family lawyer this afternoon issued a statement in which he described the News of the World's activities as "heinous" and "despicable". Milly Dowler, then aged 13, disappeared on her way home in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey on 21 March 2002.
Detectives from Scotland Yard's new inquiry into the phone hacking, Operation Weeting, are believed to have found evidence of the targeting of the Dowlers in a collection of 11,000 pages of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World.
During the last four weeks the Met officers have approached Surrey police and taken formal statements from some of those involved in the original inquiry, who were concerned about how News of the World journalists intercepted – and deleted – the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler.
The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly's disappearance so as to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive. Police feared evidence may have been destroyed.
The Guardian investigation has shown that, within a very short time of Milly vanishing News of the World journalists reacted by engaging in what was then standard practice in their newsroom – they hired private investigators to get them a story.
Their first step was simple, albeit illegal. Paperwork seen by the Guardian reveals that they paid a Hampshire private investigator, Steve Whittamore, to obtain home addresses and, where necessary, ex-directory phone numbers for any families called Dowler in the Walton area. The three addresses which Whittamore found could be obtained lawfully, using the electoral register. The two ex-directory numbers, however, were "blagged" illegally from British Telecom's confidential records by one of Whittamore's associates, John Gunning, who works from a base in Wiltshire. One of the ex-directory numbers was attributed by Whittamore to Milly's family home.
Then, with the help of their own full-time private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, the News of the World started illegally intercepting mobile phone messages. Scotland Yard are now investigating evidence that they hacked direct into the voicemail of the missing girl's own phone. As her friends and parents called and left messages imploring Milly to get in touch with them, the News of the World were listening and recording their every private word.
But the journalists at the News of the World then encountered a problem. Milly's voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the News of the World intervened – and deleted the messages which had been left in the first few days after her disappearance.
According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.
The Dowler family then granted an exclusive interview to the News of the World in which they talked about their hope, quite unaware that it had been falsely kindled by the newspaper's own intervention. Sally Dowler told them: "If Milly walked through the door, I don't think we'd be able to speak. We'd just weep tears of joy and give her a great big hug."
The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police. It confused the picture at a time when they had few real leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence. According to one senior source familiar with the Surrey police investigation: "It can happen with abduction murders that the perpetrator will leave messages, asking the missing person to get in touch, as part of their efforts at concealment. We need those messages as evidence. Anybody who destroys that evidence is seriously interfering with the course of a police investigation."
The newspaper made little effort to conceal the hacking from its readers. On 14 April 2002, they published a story about a woman who was allegedly pretending to be Milly Dowler and who had applied for a job with a recruitment agency: "It is thought the hoaxer even gave the agency Milly's real mobile phone number … The agency used the number to contact Milly when a job vacancy arose and left a message on her voicemail … It was on March 27, six days after Milly went missing, that the employment agency appears to have phoned her mobile."
The newspaper also made no effort to conceal their activity from Surrey police. After they had hacked the message from the recruitment agency on Milly's phone, they informed police about it. It was Surrey detectives who established that the call was not intended for Milly Dowler. At the time Surrey police suspected that phones belonging to detectives and to Milly's parents also were being targeted.
One of those who was involved in the original inquiry said: "We'd arrange landline calls. We didn't trust our mobiles."
However, they took no action against the News of the World, partly because their main focus was to find the missing schoolgirl and partly because this was only one example of tabloid misbehaviour. As one source close to the inquiry put it: "There was a hell of a lot of dirty stuff going on."
In a statement today, the family's lawyer, Mark Lewis of Taylor Hampton, said the Dowlers were distressed at the revelation: "It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time. The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardised the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable."
During the last four weeks, officers from Scotland Yard's new inquiry into the phone-hacking, Operation Weeting, have approached Surrey police and taken formal statements from some of those who were involved in the original inquiry. Two earlier Yard inquiries had failed to investigate the relevant notes in Mulcaire's logs.
The News of the World's investigation was part of a long-running campaign against paedophiles championed by the then editor, Rebekah Brooks. Labour MP Tom Watson last week told the House of Commons that four months after Milly Dowler's disappearance, the News of the World had targeted one of the parents of the two 10-year-old Soham girls, Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, who were abducted and murdered on 4 August 2002.
The behaviour of tabloid newspapers became an issue in the trial of Levi Bellfield, who last month was jailed for the rest of his life for murdering Milly Dowler. A second charge, that he had attempted to abduct another Surrey schoolgirl, Rachel Cowles, had to be left on the file after premature publicity by tabloids were held to have made it impossible for the jury to reach a fair verdict. The tabloids, however, focused their anger on Bellfield's defence lawyer, complaining that the questioning had caused unnecessary pain to Milly Dowler's parents.
Surrey police referred all questions on the subject to Scotland Yard, who said they could not discuss it.
The News of the World's parent company News International, part of Murdoch's media empire, said: "We have been co-operating fully with Operation Weeting since our voluntary disclosure in January restarted the investigation into illegal voicemail interception. This particular case is clearly a development of great concern and we will be conducting our own inquiry as a result. We will obviously co-operate fully with any police request on this should we be asked."http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jul/04/milly-dowler-voicemail-hacked-news-of-world?intcmp=239
Phone hacking: Glenn Mulcaire blames 'relentless pressure' by NoW for actions
The private investigator at the centre of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has issued a public apology to all those who have been hurt or upset by his activity.
In a statement released exclusively to the Guardian, Glenn Mulcaire made no direct reference to the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, but he said he had never intended to interfere with any police inquiry.
"I want to apologise to anybody who was hurt or upset by what I have done," he said, adding that he had worked at the NoW under "constant demand for results".
He released the statement at the Guardian's request after experiencing what he described as "vilification" following the revelation of the hacking of the missing schoolgirl's phone.
"Much has been published in the media about me. Up to now, I have not responded publicly in any way to all the stories but in the light of the publicity over the last 24 hours, I feel I must break my silence.
"I want to apologise to anybody who was hurt or upset by what I have done. I've been to court. I've pleaded guilty. And I've gone to prison and been punished. I still face the possibility of further criminal prosecution.
"Working for the News of the World was never easy. There was relentless pressure. There was a constant demand for results. I knew what we did pushed the limits ethically. But, at the time, I didn't understand that I had broken the law at all.
"A lot of information I obtained was simply tittle-tattle, of no great importance to anyone, but sometimes what I did was for what I thought was the greater good, to carry out investigative journalism.
"I never had any intention of interfering with any police inquiry into any crime.
"I know I have brought the vilification I am experiencing upon myself, but I do ask the media to leave my family and my children, who are all blameless, alone."
The statement came as it emerged the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the two children murdered by Ian Huntley, were contacted by Scotland Yard detectives investigating phone hacking at the NoW.
Earlier Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, told employees it was "inconceivable" she knew that NoW, which she edited at the time, hacked into Milly Dowler's mobile phone.
On Wednesday there will be a rare emergency Commons debate into calls for a public inquiry into phone hacking by News International journalists, and a potential cover up by its senior executives.http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/05/phone-hacking-glenn-mulcaire-apology
Rebekah Brooks: 'It's inconceivable I knew of Milly Dowler phone hacking'
- News International chief executive tells staff she will not quit
- Press complaints boss says News of the World lied to inquiry
- Miliband calls on Brooks to consider 'her position'
Rebekah Brooks has told employees it is "inconceivable" she knew that the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler's mobile phone.
The News International chief executive said she was "sickened" by the events, but insisted she was "determined to lead the company" – despite calls for her to resign.
Ed Miliband said Brooks should "consider her position" and has called for a public inquiry after the Guardian revealed the News of the World illegally accessed Dowler's voicemail messages under Brooks's editorship. David Cameron earlier described the hacking as a "truly dreadful act" and urged police to "pursue this in the most vigorous way", while the home secretary, Theresa May, said anyone who could commit such hacking was "sick".
Brooks, who was editing the paper at the time, emailed employees today to tell them: "It is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations. I am aware of the speculation about my position. Therefore it is important you all know that as chief executive, I am determined to lead the company to ensure we do the right thing and resolve these serious issues."
Brooks said she has written to Milly Dowler's parents on Tuesday morning "to assure them News International will vigorously pursue the truth and that they will be the first to be informed of the outcome of our investigation".
She added: "I am sickened that these events are alleged to have happened. Not just because I was editor of the News of the World at the time, but if the accusations are true, the devastating effect on Milly Dowler's family is unforgivable."
Senior executives at News International discussed the Dowler revelations at a meeting with police this morning to talk about Scotland Yard's ongoing investigation into phone hacking. News International said Rebekah Brooks was not present at the meeting.
A senior source at the News of the World's owner said it was a pre-arranged meeting with officers from Operation Weeting, the Met's investigation into phone hacking that began at the start of the year.
Brooks said in her email: "This morning, in our regular Operation Weeting meeting, we have offered the MPS our full co-operation to establish the veracity of these fresh allegations."
Miliband had earlier called for a public inquiry and said Brooks should "consider her conscience and consider her position", as pressure mounts on the chief executive.
Meanwhile, the Press Complaints Commission chairwoman Peta Buscombe said she was lied to by the News of the World over phone hacking.
Buscombe had said in 2009 that the PCC was not misled by the News of the World during its own inquiry into phone hacking. However, on the BBC's Daily Politics show, she admitted she had been "misled by the News of the World".
"There's only so much we can do when people are lying to us. We know now that I was not being given the truth by the News of the World," Buscombe said. She denied having sided with the newspaper.
Miliband said the latest revelations in the News of the World phone-hacking saga were a "stain" on news reporting in the country. He added that the hacking "represents one of the darkest days in British journalism".
Earlier Cameron, currently in Afghanistan, said of the Guardian's revelation that the News of the World illegally targeted Milly Dowler and her family: "If they are true this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation."
He added: "There is a police investigation into hacking allegations … they should investigate this without any fear, without any favour, without any worry about where the evidence should lead them.
"They should pursue this in the most vigorous way that they can in order to get to the truth of what happened. That is the absolute priority as a police investigation."
The home secretary told the home affairs select committee the revelations were "totally shocking" but said she did not know if the News of the World used hacking in relation to the Soham murders.
May was asked if there should be a public inquiry into the affair, but said the ongoing police investigation should be allowed to run.
The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, whose force is accused of not investigating phone hacking properly in the first place, said on Tuesday: "My heart goes out to the Dowler family."
He told BBC London: "I have to be very careful to say nothing that could prejudice our live investigation but if it is proved to be true, then irrespective of the legality or illegality of it, I'm not sure there is anyone who wouldn't be appalled and repulsed by such behaviour."
Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott said on Twitter that he would write to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, demanding he block News Corp's bid to take full control of pay-TV company BSkyB following the revelations about Dowler.
However, John Whittingdale, the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that phone hacking at the News of the World should not taint the rest of Rupert Murdoch's empire. "You cannot necessarily condemn the entire of News Corp just because of the actions of some individuals in another part of the organisation," he said.
"News International is a part of News Corp but it's a different part. News Corp is a global enterprise and I don't think one should condemn the entire organisation because something very clearly was going wrong in the News of the World."
Detectives from Operation Weeting are believed to have found evidence of the targeting of the Dowlers in a collection of 11,000 pages of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World.
In the past four weeks Met officers have approached Surrey police and taken formal statements from some of those involved in the original inquiry, who were concerned about how News of the World journalists intercepted – and deleted – the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler.
The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly's disappearance to create space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly she might still be alive. Police also feared evidence may have been destroyed.http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jul/05/rebekah-brooks-milly-dowler-phone-hacking?intcmp=239
Milly Dowler phone hacking: Family shocked by NoW revelations
Sally and Bob Dowler's lawyer spoke of the distress the pair felt upon hearing that their daughter's voicemails were hacked into
The reaction of Milly Dowler's family to the revelation that the News of the World hacked into messages left on her phone was one of shock and disgust, their lawyer, Mark Lewis, said. "Sally and Bob Dowler have been through so much grief and trauma without further distressing revelations to them regarding the loss of their daughter," Lewis said.
"It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time. The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardised the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable."
The parents, pictured above speaking after Levi Bellfield was convicted of their daughter's murder, are seeking damages from the paper, Lewis added. More than 30 people who have been shown evidence by the Met that suggests they were victims of hacking are already suing the title's owner, News Group, for breach of privacy.
Lewis also said it should be asked who at the News of the World thought it was appropriate to issue instructions to the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to hack into Milly's phone and how Mulcaire thought it was acceptable to carry out those orders.
"You have to ask the question who was at the News of the World thinking it was appropriate to try and hack into the phone of a missing young girl?" Lewis said. "Both of them should have had [the] common decency and moral right to turn round and say no."
Lewis said Dowler's parents were contacted by Scotland Yard officers about the allegations in April, a month before Levi Bellfield went on trial for her murder. They had told them: "Glenn Mulcaire, on behalf of the News of the World, was hacking into Milly Dowler's phone while she was a missing person."http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jul/04/milly-dowler-family-phone-hacking?intcmp=239