Two of Surrey Police’s most senior officers are to be investigated over why the force remained silent for 10 years about its knowledge that the News of the World had hacked Milly Dowler’s voicemails.
Craig Denholm, the deputy chief constable of Surrey Police, and Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall, will be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over how much they knew about the NOTW’s illegal accessing of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone during the early stage of the force’s investigation into the schoolgirl’s abduction and murder in 2002. It will also try to establish why no criminal investigation into the hacking was launched.
The Independent has learnt that the IPCC probe will also look at Surrey officers’ continuing silence during 2006/07, when private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and royal reporter Clive Goodman, both working for the Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid, were charged and jailed for phone hacking. The IPCC investigation will also examine the Surrey force’s failure to formally tell Scotland Yard what it knew in 2009 when new allegations of phone hacking were published.
The decision to launch the investigation of Mr Denholm, who is responsible for “risk and reputation” at the Surrey force, follows revelations in The Independent last October that senior Surrey officers knew Milly’s phone had been hacked by the NOTW in 2002.
In January, Surrey’s acting deputy chief constable, Jerry Kirkby, conceded to the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee that substantial contact had taken place between officers and NOTW reporters, including a meeting between senior officers and NOTW executives at the force’s headquarters in Guildford in July 2002. On another occasion, a tape recording of one of the voicemails left for Milly was played to a Surrey Police press officer by a NOTW reporter.
Last night, the Labour MP Tom Watson, who helped expose the full extent of the hacking scandal, said: “This marks a new milestone in the hacking inquiry. To think of the misery caused to countless victims of illicit surveillance after Surrey Police were made aware of phone hacking by News International. Much of it could have been stopped had they acted.”
The IPCC were called in after the Surrey force this week formally handed over a dossier from a year-long internal investigation, Operation Baronet, which has been examining the “circumstances surrounding the accessing of Milly Dowler’s voicemail”.
The watchdog said it was investigating the “conduct” of Mr Denholm, and “examining the information” Ms Woodall provided to Operation Baronet. Although Ms Woodall led the hunt for Milly Dowler’s killer from 2006, securing the conviction of doorman Levi Bellfield last June, The Independent has learned that the IPCC probe will focus on the period when she was a liaison officer to the Dowler family, and is alleged to have informed the force of her suspicions that Milly Dowler’s phone had been illegally accessed. The police watchdog want to know why a criminal investigation was not ordered by Surrey Police.
Milly’s parents said they welcomed the “proper investigation of what happened at Surrey 10 years ago” but added they “regretted that the passage of time means that some individuals can now no longer be investigated”.
In October The Independent reported that the control of the initial stages of the Dowler investigation came under Mr Denholm and Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Gibson. Mr Gibson has since retired from the Surrey force but is under contract to the Metropolitan Police as a civilian investigator. Scotland Yard were asked if Mr Gibson wished to comment on the IPCC investigation, but did not reply by the time of going to press.
Surrey Police said Mr Denholm and Ms Woodall would remain in their jobs while the IPCC investigation went ahead.