Met chief Lord Stevens' diary reveals News of the World dinners

 

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the editor of the News of the World dined together at The Ivy while murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was missing, official diaries showed today.

Lord Stevens met various senior executives from national media while he was Britain's top police officer between 2000 and 2005, according to his once-lost diaries.

The meetings included three dinners with former News of the World (NOTW) and Sun editor Rebekah Brooks at The Ivy, a favourite haunt of celebrities in central London, the diaries, released to the Press Association following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, show.

These included a three-hour dinner on August 28 2002, just months after Milly disappeared in March and before her body was found on September 18.

Mrs Brooks resigned as News International chief executive on July 15 this year saying she was "appalled and shocked" that Milly's phone was hacked.

Two days later Scotland Yard detectives arrested her on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption. She is currently on police bail. Her lawyer has said she denies committing any criminal offence.

In October, News International confirmed it was paying the Dowler family £2 million in settlement of their civil claim over the illegal interception of Milly's voicemail messages by a private investigator working for the News of the World after she went missing in 2002.

Rupert Murdoch also donated £1 million to charities chosen by the schoolgirl's family to underscore his regret.

But over the weekend, the Dowler's family solicitor Mark Lewis said that, despite initial reports, police now suspect that the NoW was not responsible for deleting messages on Milly's phone and giving the family "false hope" that she was alive.

Instead, Milly's phone would automatically delete messages 72 hours after being listened to, and some messages had been deleted before the NOTW began hacking into her voicemail.

The former commissioner's diary showed Mrs Brooks, under her maiden name of Rebekah Wade, met with Lord Stevens on at least six occasions between 2000 and 2005, including three dinners at The Ivy in August 2002, June 2003 and December 2004.

Other meetings described lunch or dinner with "News of the World", without naming the individuals invited.

Lord Stevens also dined with both Mrs Brooks and former News International executive chairman Les Hinton, the most senior figure to resign over the hacking scandal so far, just seven days after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

The dinner was held in the force's headquarters at New Scotland Yard.

In September 2004, Mr Hinton, along with "other editors (Sun, NofW etc)", dined with Lord Stevens at News International's headquarters in Wapping, east London.

A close lieutenant of Mr Murdoch who had worked with the News Corp chief for more than 50 years, Mr Hinton quit as CEO of the company's Dow Jones subsidiary in July as the scale of hacking which took place under his watch at the NOTW became apparent.

Lord Stevens said in his autobiography that he worked hard to foster good relations with newspapers, making himself "available" to editors.

Lord Stevens also met former NOTW editor Andy Coulson on at least five occasions, including for lunch at Shepherd's in the heart of Westminster and dinner at Cipriani London in Mayfair.

These were held in August 2000, March 2001, February 2003, November 2004 and January 2005, the diaries showed.

Neil Wallis, the NOTW's former executive editor, who was arrested in July by the Metropolitan Police's phone-hacking investigation team, was also present on this last occasion at Cipriani London.

Mr Coulson, who was also arrested in July over the allegations and released on bail, resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications in January, saying that coverage of the scandal was making it too difficult for him to do his job.

Stuart Kuttner, the former NOTW managing editor who was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking and inappropriate payments to police in August and later released on bail, also met Lord Stevens on at least two occasions in March 2001 and November 2004.

Lord Stevens also dined with a series of other media executives during his time in office, including Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, and former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan.

Other executives whom he met included representatives of the Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, the Daily Express, the Financial Times, the Observer, the London Evening Standard, the BBC, ITN and Sky News.

Lord Stevens' diaries, which had been lost, were found after a "thorough investigation" was ordered by the current commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, earlier this year.

Lord Stevens used a paper-based diary from January 1 2000 to August 9 2001, but then used both a paper diary and Microsoft Outlook after this date, the response to the FOI request showed.

Mark Lewis, the Dowler family's lawyer, said the "revelation shows the level and type of contact between the police and News International".

"It might be that nothing untoward was discussed but the lack of openness causes suspicion," he said.

"Policing should be open."

Metropolitan Police Authority member Baroness Dee Doocey said: "This latest piece of information is yet further evidence showing that the relationship between the Met and the News of the World really was completely inappropriate and an absolute disgrace."

The Liberal Democrat London Assembly policing spokeswoman added: "Attempts to obtain the full details of the links between the highest ranks of the Met and senior executives of the News of the World and News International have been like pulling teeth."

PA

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