Police covered up Dowler hacking

 

Surrey Police knew for nine years that the News of the World had been hacking Milly Dowler's voicemails – and was even played a recording of one message by a journalist from the Sunday newspaper – but never took action about the law-breaking or told her anguished family.

The force, which was investigating the schoolgirl's disappearance and murder in 2002, has stayed silent for a decade despite repeatedly being given evidence of the NOTW illegally accessing the 13-year-old's mobile phone messages during the middle of its inquiries. Two other police forces also had knowledge of the hacking, it emerged yesterday in highly damaging evidence released by Parliament.

In a trail of logged exchanges between Surrey Police and journalists from the now-defunct Murdoch-owned tabloid – finally released yesterday after months of demands from this newspaper and another – officers and public relations officials from the force are shown to have been fully aware of how NOTW journalists illegally hacked into her mobile phone during 2002, and yet did and said nothing until late 2011.

The report, which details exchanges during the crucial weeks of the police hunt, is a heavily redacted summary of the initial findings of Surrey's deputy chief constable, Jerry Kirkby.

The report, published by the Culture and Media Select Committee of MPs, which has been investigating the phone-hacking scandal, backs up the central claims made in an investigation carried out by The Independent last October.

Surrey Police, despite its stonewalling, had discussed phone hacking with the NOTW in 2002 and had failed to take action against the News International title – action which could have halted the tabloid's criminal activities, which continued for almost a decade.

The logged exchanges in the Kirkby report reveals journalists from the NOTW interfering in the Surrey investigation, offering excuses about where they were getting information from, and attempting to bully police press officers into backing its theories on Milly's disappearance.

The report also confirms The Independent's claim that there was also a formal meeting between representatives of the tabloid and Surrey Police. The report says this meeting took place in July 2002. However, no notes have been given of what was discussed.

The report edits out the names of the NOTW journalists and the senior police officers who exchanged information. Mr Kirkby said this was done at the request of the Metropolitan Police which is currently pursuing a criminal investigation into key individuals at the centre of the hacking scandal.

Surrey officers admit they knew the NOTW held a recording of Milly's voicemails messages; that the force was played the message; that they were told the NOTW had got Milly's phone and pin number from "school friends".

The NOTW journalists redacted in the report are shown to be engaged in harassment, blagging, bullying, deception and a refusal to accept the views of the police investigation.

One unnamed individual tried to "blag" information about Milly by calling a recruitment agency and pretending to be her mother, Sally.

Last night the Dowler family said in a statement: "Surrey have not explained why they did not investigation that deception in 2002."

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who last week was among scores of individuals settling their phone-hacking claims with News International at a cost of millions of pounds,last night accused Surrey Police of having a "callous disregard" for the feelings of the Dowler family. Mr Bryant said: "It is extraordinary that they never sought to investigate the self-evident criminality and distasteful intrusion involved in hacking Milly Dowler's phone."

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said if Surrey Police had "flagged up" what they knew about phone hacking in 2002 "it may have prevented the culture of hacking becoming endemic at the NOTW." Mr Vaz said his committee would now begin investigating why Surrey Police "did not follow up on this evidence".

The jailed NOTW investigator Glenn Mulcaire has denied he deleted Milly's voicemails. News International has also denied it held evidence which pointed to its involvement in the deletions.

Although Mr Kirkby claimed his report is "substantive" he admits that despite nine years between the NOTW hacking Milly's phone and today, his report is only "a present understanding".

What the report does not resolve is how the voicemails on Milly's phone came to be deleted. On this issue, Mr Kirkby states that Scotland Yard has still not reached a final conclusion.

The Met said last December it believed new evidence pointed to journalists on the tabloid as being unlikely to have deleted the emails that freed up Milly's mailbox. This deletion had caused her parents to believe and hope their daughter might still be alive.

A News International spokeswoman said last night: "The interception of Milly Dowler's phone was shocking and totally unacceptable. The abhorrent nature of what was discovered to have happened at the News of the World ultimately led to its closure last year.

"The matter is part of a criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police and those who sanctioned or conducted this activity should rightly be held accountable for their actions."

Last night questions were also being asked about how much West Mercia Police knew and could have revealed about hacking. The force are listed in the report engaging in exchanges of information and discussing the activities of the NOTW.

Tom Watson, the culture committee MP who has helped lead the hacking investigation, said the Surrey report held "shocking revelations".

The investigation: questions for Surrey Police

Q Why didn't Surrey Police investigate the News of the World and its reporters 10 years ago?

Despite talking with NOTW on 15 separate occasions, which must have included discussions with news executives running the Dowler story, and despite even being played a recording of a voicemail which could only have been taken from Milly's phone, no action was taken. The Deputy Chief Constable says his report is not "an entire account of Surrey Police's actions" – one of the report's most striking statements.

Q Why didn't the force tell Milly Dowler's parents that their daughter's messages had been hacked by NOTW reporters?

Surrey Police had a family liaison officer helping the Dowlers deal with the trauma of a missing daughter. It knew Sally and Bob Dowler's pain in 2002. It knew that pain was still there last year. The £3m payout from News International could never replace Milly. Yet Surrey Police stayed silent from 2002 until 2011 and only now admit what it could have have told the Dowlers. Its report offers no explanation for this silence.

Q Why has Surrey Police's internal investigation still not found out what was discussed at a meeting it had with the News of the World in July 2002?

More may be revealed when a senior Surrey Police officer gives evidence under oath to the Leveson Inquiry later this year.

Q Will Surrey Police refer its handling of the Milly Dowler voicemail hacking to the Independent Police Complaints Commission?

Yesterday's revelations may take this decision out of Surrey's hands. The IPCC has examined allegations relating to one officer involved in the murder inquiry. A decision on his case is expected soon. But this report suggests the IPCC may need to widen its inquiry.

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