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Milly Dowler detectives may have had phones hacked, inquiry told

Lawyers tell Leveson hearing that Surrey Police were 'likely' to have been victims back in 2002

Detectives investigating the disappearance and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 may have had their own phones hacked.

Lawyers representing Surrey Police told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that the force knew of the interception of their mobile voicemails in 2002. John Beggs QC told Lord Leveson during a hearing in the High Court that he had been instructed "that it is likely that a number of Surrey Police at the time of the launch of the Milly Dowler investigation nine years ago were themselves victims of hacking". He told the hearing that he did want to develop his statement any further.

Surrey Police were the subject of an investigation last month by The Independent which revealed officers knew the News of the World had evidence accessed from the murdered teenager's phone in 2002 and failed to notify authorities and the subsequent parliamentary investigations into hacking. An officer from the Surrey force is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission – a detective is alleged to have passed information on the Dowler investigation to the NOTW and may or may not have been paid.

According to sources, Surrey Police are understood to have operated a "bulk contract" with a mobile phone company in 2002 that gave all their handsets an identical first seven digits and a security system for the remaining numbers. There are concerns in the force that their internal directory was accessed by an outsider or a police informer who passed the data on.

Mr Beggs appeared before Lord Leveson as part of Surrey Police's application for "core participant" status in the inquiry which is looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

The inquiry also heard from the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service that Scotland Yard's criminal investigation into phone hacking at the NOTW could be prejudiced if the inquiry hears detailed evidence about what went on inside the News International title.

Attempting to allay fears, Lord Leveson said his inquiry's focus would be "macroscopic rather than microscopic", adding that he was also concerned about the protection "of those who may be subject to further proceedings". The Met's counsel said there was a danger of prejudice on evidence that had yet to come before an appropriate judge and that the inquiry was "crystal-ball gazing".

Lord Leveson said he was considering applications which advocated a "cypher" system that would not identify the names of those who had so far been arrested by the Met as part of their phone-hacking inquiries. Job descriptions or "bands" of roles with NI could, however, be used as part of the code.