News of the World 'did not delete Milly Dowler voicemails'
Published Dec 12 2011, 12:56 GMT | By Andrew Laughlin
Fresh evidence has emerged suggesting that News of the World
journalists did not in fact delete the message on Milly Dowler's mobile phone that gave the family false hope she was still alive.
A report in The Guardian
, published on July 4, claimed that the Sunday tabloid had employed a private investigator to hack into messages on the murdered schoolgirl's phone after she went missing in 2002.
Most shocking was the revelation that journalists had deleted a voicemail on the phone, enabling Sally Dowler to leave a message on the previously full inbox, giving her false hope that Milly was still alive and accessing her phone.
This incendiary claim led to the closure of the News of the World
in July and prompted David Cameron to launch an inquiry into press ethics and standards.
In July, The Guardian
wrote: "The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly's disappearance in order 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."> Phone hacking made Dowler family think Milly was alive> News of the World defends Milly Dowler phone hacking
Glenn Mulcaire, who allegedly conducted the hacking on behalf of the News of the World
, later denied that he had deleted the messages
, while News of the World
publisher News International
also denied responsibility.
Police have now released new evidence suggesting that the messages could actually have been automatically deleted by Dowler's mobile phone provider 72 hours after they were accessed.
In a statement, The Guardian
acknowledged the fresh information and retracted its claim that News of the World
journalists deleted the voice messages that made Sally Dowler think her daughter was still alive.
"Our story on July 4 accurately reported the facts about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone known at the time. It is uncontested that in April 2011, Metropolitan police detectives told Sally Dowler that Milly's phone had been hacked by the News of the World
and that voicemails had been deleted by the paper's journalists or a detective working for them," said the paper.
"Subsequent investigation by Operation Weeting has confirmed the key details reported by The Guardian
: that the News of the World
commissioned Glenn Mulcaire to hack into Milly's phone; that he succeeded; that journalists listened to some deeply personal messages; and that Surrey police knew this at the time and took no action.
"Although the investigation has found that the News of the World
was not responsible for the particular deletion of voicemails which caused Milly's parents to have false hope that she was alive, the new evidence also suggests that it is likely the paper's staff were inadvertently responsible for deleting later messages."
The paper added: "The central and most serious allegation of the Milly Dowler hacking story was that the paper had hacked the phone of a teenage murder victim, behaviour David Cameron described as 'absolutely disgusting'. Only six weeks ago Rupert Murdoch
himself, with four months to consider the evidence, described the News of the World
's conduct in the Dowler case as 'abhorrent and awful'."
Meanwhile, the total number of phone hacking victims is understood to be around 800, after police claimed to have contacted all people "who have been hacked or are likely to have been hacked".
Also today, former News of the World
reporters Mazar Mahmood and Neville Thurlbeck are appearing at the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and standards.
Leveson Inquiry coverage roundup:> Alastair Campbell hits out at 'putrid' press>> JK Rowling criticises 'threatening' press treatment> Harry Potter newspaper articles criticised by JK Rowling> Sienna Miller 'baffled and intimidated' by press intrusion> Madeleine McCann parents Kate and Gerry 'violated' by press intrusion> Phone hacking goes beyond News of the World, says lawyer> Steve Coogan: Newspaper industry is like the mafia> Hugh Grant suspects Mail On Sunday of phone hacking> Charlotte Church offered coverage deal to sing at Rupert Murdoch wedding