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Police failure to investigate hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail ‘unacceptable’, internal report concludes

'Senior officers would or should have been aware of the News of the World's illegal actions,' report says

Operation Baronet’s report said they had not found evidence of a conspiracy or collusive relationship between officers and the News of the World
Operation Baronet’s report said they had not found evidence of a conspiracy or collusive relationship between officers and the News of the World

The police’s failure to investigate the hacking of the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was “unacceptable” and “a matter of deep regret”, an internal investigation has found.

The Operation Baronet report said the now-defunct News of the World contacted the force on 13 April 2002 and said they were writing a story on Milly’s whereabouts based on information found in a message on her voicemail. Yet, no investigation into the hacking followed.

“Senior officers would or should have been aware of the News of the World’s illegal actions and the matter of phone hacking should have been revisited and investigated at a later stage," the report said.

“The failure to do so was unacceptable and remains a matter of deep regret for the force.”

In the period when Milly was missing, her parents were given false hope she was alive after the News of the World hacked her phone and deleted her voicemail messages.

As to the reason why the matter was not investigated, the report said: “It is possible a decision was made not to pursue the newspaper because of the potential consequences."

However it concluded: “It is more likely the matter was simply not seen for what it was.” In 2002 the term “phone-hacking” was not widely used.

They said at the time they were not aware of the “endemic use” of the practice by The News of the World.

The report concluded that the force had "rightly" focused their efforts on finding Milly rather than pursuing the hackers.

They had not found evidence of a conspiracy or collusive relationship between officers and the News of the World, the report concluded.

Following the scandal, two senior officers were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC carried out an investigation that concluded no misconduct had take place.

Surrey Police said it had apologised to the Dowler family for the distress caused to them.

Milly was 13 when she was abducted while on her way home from school in Walton-on Thames, surrey in March 2002. Levi Bellfield is serving life in prison after being found guilty of abducting and killing the teenager. This year, 14 years after Milly died, the serial killer admitted to raping and murdering her.

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