Monday 12 December 2011

The Guardian: 'Police say News of the World journalists did not delete Milly Dowler's voicemails that gave family false hope she was still alive'

The Guardian reported at the weekend police do not believe it was News of the World journalists who deleted the voicemails on murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone that gave her family false hope she was still alive.

The paper has now added an "editor's note" correction to its original story on the Milly Dowler phone hacking published in July, which caused a wave of revulsion against the News of the World.

It reads: "Editor's note: evidence secured by police following the publication of this article has established that the News of the World was not responsible for the deletion of voicemails which caused Milly Dowler's parents to have false hope that she was alive."

An article by Nick Davies and David Leigh, in the Guardian on Saturday said: "It is understood that while News of the World reporters probably were responsible for deleting some of the missing girl's messages, police have concluded that they were not responsible for the particular deletion which caused her family to have false hope that she was alive."

It adds: "Testifying to the Leveson inquiry, Sally Dowler described how one day after Milly went missing she found that her daughter's voice mailbox had apparently been emptied. "I just jumped and said 'She's picked up her voicemails, she's alive'," she told the inquiry.

"Evidence retrieved from Surrey police logs shows that this "false hope" moment occurred on the evening of Sunday 24 March 2002. It is not clear what caused this deletion. Phone company logs show that Milly last accessed her voicemail on Wednesday 20 March, so the deletion on Sunday cannot have been the knock-on effect of Milly listening to her messages. Furthermore, the deletion removed every single message from her phone. But police believe it cannot have been caused by the News of the World, which had not yet instructed private detective Glenn Mulcaire to hack Milly's phone. Police are continuing to try to solve the mystery."

  • Mark Lewis, the lawyer for the Dowler family, has issued a statement.
  • UPDATE: Mail is running story saying police could have deleted crucial voicemails.
  • Stephen Glover suggests in the Independent today (Monday) that had the Guardian not published its allegations in July against the News of the World: "The Sunday red-top might not have been closed by a panic-stricken Rupert Murdoch, and the Leveson Inquiry might not have been set up by an equally panic-striken David Cameron."
  • Reaction on Twitter: Hayley Barlow, former NoW PR, "too little, too late". Guardian's David Leigh: "It's great news that NOTW 'only' definitely hacked 803 people including Milly #Dowler. I'm asking Murdoch to re-open it right away."
  • Sky News quotes a Guardian spokesman: "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 the News of the World had been responsible for hacking Milly's phone and deleting messages on it.

    "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 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'."

  • Some former NoW staffers on Twitter have been demanding an apology from the Guardian.
  • Nick Davies told Sky News the decision to close the News of the World was "cruel and wrong."
  • Nick Davies on the new evidence. He writes: "For those who are interested in Fleet Street's behaviour, there is one interesting point. The new evidence created just enough doubt to raise the risk that some of those who would rather the hacking saga had never happened, might try to exploit it, to make mischief. It didn't happen. Not one newspaper ran a twisted news story. Lord Leveson might take heart from that."
  • BBC News reports Lord Justice Leveson said the police needed to clarify events.

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