'News of the World' hacked Milly Dowler's phone when Rebekah Brooks was editor

The News of the World interfered with the police inquiry into the disappearance of the Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler by hacking into her mobile phone, police sources have confirmed.

In the latest blow to Rupert Murdoch's News International, Scotland Yard detectives have found evidence that the Sunday paper targeted the 13-year-old's mobile phone in March 2002, soon after she disappeared on her way home in Walton-on-Thames.

The tabloid – then being edited by New International's current chief executive Rebekah Brooks – deleted messages left on her phone by desperate friends and relatives to free space in her inbox, so that it could access fresh voicemails for stories. This led Surrey Police and the Dowler family to believe that she may still be alive.

The NOTW later ran a story based on a hoax message left on her voicemail and also carried a heartrending interview with the Dowler family, unaware that their false hope had been at least partly stirred by its own criminality. It is understood that the mobile phones of Milly's parents, Robert and Sally, were also targeted.

By then Milly had been murdered by Levi Bellfield, who was jailed for life last month after a trial that involved intense personal questioning of her parents.

Mark Lewis, their solicitor, said last night that the Dowlers had been informed about the phone hacking by officers from Operation Weeting, the Yard's new investigation into phone hacking by the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Mr Lewis said: "I would suggest this is one of the worst cases of all. You have to ask the question: who at the News of the World was thinking it was appropriate to try to hack into the phone of a missing young girl?" He added: "Sally and Bob Dowler have been through so much grief and trauma without further distressing revelations to them regarding the loss of their daughter."

The latest twist in the long-running scandal is likely to increase the pressure on Ms Brooks, who used her editorship of the NOTW to conduct a campaign to tighten laws to protect children from paedophiles following the murder of Sarah Payne in 2000.

The Labour MP Tom Watson claimed last week that the NOTW hacked the phones of the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the children murdered at Soham in 2002. Last night, he told the Commons that targeting Milly Dowler's phone was a "despicable and evil act that will shock parents up and down the land to the very core".

Chris Bryant, another Labour MP and prominent campaigner, said: "This is the most horrific, depraved story yet in this catalogue of extensive criminality. Not only did the News of the World clearly think that they were above the law, they were prepared to play God with the emotions of the Dowler family."

Yesterday, it was confirmed that detectives from Operation Weeting had also visited Colin Stagg, the man wrongly accused of murdering Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992, to inform him there was evidence that Mulcaire may have hacked his phone as far back as 2000.

The Independent established earlier this year that the Dowlers had been targeted by another private investigator, Steve Whittamore, on behalf of News International. With the help of an accomplice, he supplied the NOTW with the ex-directory number for the Dowlers' home.

Detectives are believed to have found evidence of the Dowlers' private information in the 11,000 pages of notes kept by Mulcaire. Upon finding the missing schoolgirl's voicemail inbox to be full, The Guardian reported last night, the NOTW decided to delete messages in order to allow more to be left – which could then provide leads for stories.

News International said: "This particular case is clearly a development of great concern and we will be conducting our own inquiries as a result."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform