Surrey Police were informed by the News of the World 11 years ago that the newspaper held voicemails taken from the mobile phone of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler and played a recording of the messages to officers involved in the 2002 hunt to find her, the Old Bailey heard.
A statement was read to the jury at the hacking trial by one of the officers involved in Operation Ruby, the Surrey Police investigation into the disappearance of the schoolgirl. Detective Sergeant Kevin McEntee claimed the paper’s managing editor, Stuart Kuttner, had told him the now-shuttered Murdoch tabloid had specific information on the Dowler case, held voicemails, and had obtained her number and PIN access codes from “school friends”.
The jury heard that Mr Kuttner, an executive at the Sunday tabloid for 22 years, told the Surrey force that Milly had received a call on her phone from a job agency in Telford about interviews and a potential job at a computer factory. The NOTW executive did not hide details about where the information had come from. The police questioned the importance of the Telford voicemail and said it may have come from a hoaxer as Milly was not registered with the Midlands agency.
The force’s press officer, Sarah McGregor, told the jury that she had explained to journalists on the NOTW that Milly’s phone number may have been called accidentally and that the agency’s message had been for someone called “Nana” not “Amanda” which was Milly’s full name.
But Ricky Sutton, a NOTW reporter working on the Dowler story insisted to Surrey police the paper’s information was “a fact” and it was “absolutely 100 per cent certain” the schoolgirl had travelled north to the Midlands.
Missing since March 2002, Milly’s body was discovered in September the same year.
Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International, and seven others, including Mr Kuttner, deny various charges relating to phone hacking.
A guest at the Dubai hotel where Mrs Brooks was on holiday during the week the NOTW’s published a story based on the schoolgirl’s voicemails, told the court she left a drinks gathering telling her then partner, the EastEnders actor Ross Kemp, that she needed to have a phone conversation about “a missing Surrey schoolgirl”.
William Hennessy, a regional director, said he met up with Mrs Brooks and Mr Kemp on three occasions at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai because his holiday friend Dean Keyworth was also a friend of Mrs Brooks’s deputy at the NOTW, Andy Coulson, who was in London editing the paper. The meetings allegedly took place on the Friday and Saturday before the Dowler story was published on 14 April 2002.
Mr Hennessy was asked by Mark Bryant-Heron, for the prosecution, if he recalled how Mr Kemp reacted when Mrs Brooks “left the company”.
The witness replied: “Yes, he remonstrated a bit and said ‘You are always working’.”
Mr Bryant-Heron asked Mr Hennessy how Mrs Brooks responded. He replied: “She said something to do with a missing Surrey schoolgirl and it was important.”
Mr Hennessy told the court that during the time he spent in Mrs Brooks’s company “she seemed to spend a lot of time on the phone”.
Questioned by Jonathan Laidlaw QC, representing Mrs Brooks, Mr Hennessy was told that his client had no recollection of spending time with the witness. “Why should she?” he replied. Mr Laidlaw suggested that Mrs Brooks would never have spoken of Milly Dowler as a “missing Surrey schoolgirl”. Mr Hennessy said: “I heard it very clearly I can assure you.”
The trial continues.
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