Surrey Police failed for more than a decade to disclose information which showed that the News of the World hacked the phone of Milly Dowler – and the force was yesterday criticised by MPs.
The Independent revealed last year that two senior Surrey officers in charge of the 2002 investigation into the disappearance of the 13-year-old schoolgirl met NOTW journalists and were shown proof the paper held information taken from Milly's voicemails.
One of the officers, Craig Denholm, who is currently Surrey's Deputy Chief Constable, went on to work for John Yates, the head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard. In July 2009 Mr Yates carried out a heavily-criticised review of the Yard's first phone-hacking investigation and found revelations about further victims of voicemail interception did not merit a new inquiry.
Surrey Police yesterday declined to comment on whether Mr Denholm, who left the Yard in May 2009, had contacted Mr Yates or the Metropolitan Police to pass on information about the NOTW''s targeting of Ms Dowler. The force said its own internal inquiry into the hacking of the schoolgirl's phone is due to be passed to the Leveson Inquiry shortly. Yesterday's report by the House of Commons Media Select Committee said it was understandable that the Surrey force had not taken any action against the NOTW over its phone hacking in the weeks and months following Milly's disappearance, when the investigation into her whereabouts took priority.
But it added: "It is less excusable for Surrey Police to have sat on that information for 10 more years before bringing it to the attention of the Metropolitan Police, particularly given the publicity surrounding earlier police investigations into phone hacking at the News of the World."
The revelation last summer that the Sunday tabloid had accessed the voicemails of an abducted child proved the tipping point in the unfolding of the hacking scandal. Public outrage, which Rupert Murdoch last week admitted he felt like a "blast coming through the window", led to the closure of the NOTW and forced the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry.
Surrey Police admitted last October that it had received a phone call from the NOTW in 2002 shortly after Milly's disappearance in which the paper disclosed it had accessed her voicemail, but the force had not launched a criminal investigation into the incident.
The force has previously been criticised for its failure to pass on the information it held from the Dowler investigation, in particular to the original Yard inquiry into phone hacking in 2006. An internal inquiry, known as Operation Baronet, was launched by Surrey Police last year.
But its full findings are unlikely to be made public due to concerns that it would interfere with potential prosecutions arising from Operation Weeting, the Yard's investigation into phone hacking.