Craig Denholm, officer named in 'amnesia' report over Milly Dowler hacking, lands top role with another force

Craig Denholm will now be Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire

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The Independent Online

A senior police officer admonished this week over his force's "collective amnesia" concerning its knowledge of the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's mobile phone was today unveiled as the new deputy chief constable of a neighbouring force.

Craig Denholm, who is in the same role at Surrey Police, was given written and verbal "words of advice" after an investigation by watchdogs found the force knew in 2002 that the News of the World may have listened into Milly's voicemails and did nothing about it for almost a decade.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it found it "hard to understand" how Mr Denholm, who was the officer in overall charge of the hunt for the 13-year-old schoolgirl following her disappearance in March 2002, could not have been aware of the hacking.

Today the former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism officer was appointed as the new second-in-charge of Hampshire Police, whose chief constable, Andy Marsh, described Mr Denholm as having a "good track record of leadership and delivery of excellent policing services".

Mark Lewis, the lawyer representing Milly's parents, Bob and Sally, described as an "absolute disgrace" the decision to appoint Mr Denholm in the face of the IPCC report, which described it as "scarcely credible" that no-one connected to the Dowler investigation had recognised the importance of the knowledge about hacking held by Surrey in 2002.

Labour's shadow immigration minister, Chris Bryant, who has been a prominent  phone hacking campaigner, described the Hampshire appointment as "extraordinary".

The Hampshire force said it had appointed Mr Denholm, who has repeatedly denied that he knew about the hacking, in full knowledge of the findings of the watchdog, which were published on Wednesday - a day before the final interviews for the deputy chief constable post on Thursday.

In a statement, the force said: "We were aware of the IPCC report. DCC Denholm was an outstanding candidate and selected on merit. We look forward to welcoming him."

The decision to appoint Mr Denholm, who has worked for Hampshire earlier in his career, was also approved by the county's new police and crime commissioner, Simon Hayes.

The IPCC said the allegation that the NOTW eavesdropped on Milly's voicemails had been known about "at all levels" within Operation Ruby, the hunt for Milly which was led by Mr Denholm.

The watchdog said former senior officers appeared to have been afflicted by a "form of collective amnesia" about why and by whom the subsequent decision was taken not to investigate the intrusion.

The IPCC also found that the hacking had been referred to in documents received by Mr Denholm. But it said that its investigation was unable find any witness or documentation to contradict Mr Denholm's repeated insistence that he did not know about the illegal accessing of Milly's phone by the NOTW.

It said that as a result of this and the passage of time in which potentially crucial material has been  "lost or misplaced", there was insufficient evidence to recommend that Mr Denholm face gross misconduct proceedings.

Surrey Police said its chief constable, Lynne Owens, had taken "management action and issued words of advice" - the lowest form of sanction - to Mr Denholm in the light of the IPCC's findings, which were summarised from a full report which is being held back until the conclusion of criminal proceedings linked to the phone hacking scandal.

Mr Lewis, one of a small group of lawyers who helped uncover the scale of the hacking scandal, criticised Mr Denholm's appointment by Hampshire as "reward for taking part in 'collective amnesia". He said: "What were the 'words of advice' he received - 'go elsewhere and hope people forget'? This is an absolute disgrace."

Mr Denholm, who was paid a salary of £128,000 a year in Surrey and will be eligible to retire with full pension rights next year. He said he was "absolutely delighted" at his new appointment, adding: "I have had the pleasure of serving with the force before and look forward to ... helping make what is already a great force even better."