New evidence has emerged suggesting that News of the World journalists were not responsible for the deletion of mobile phone messages which gave Milly Dowler’s family false hope she was alive.
The News of the World is not believed to have been involved in listening to Milly’s phone messages until after the incident in which messages disappeared from her voicemail, leading the family to hope she was alive in the days after her disappearance in March 2002.
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It is now beleived that the messages could have been automatically deleted after detectives listened to them.
This contradicts one of the central claims in the first Guardian story of 5 July revealing that the News of the World had hacked Milly’s phone.
In it The Guardian stated as fact: “The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive. Police feared evidence may have been destroyed.”
Now the following footnote has been added to the online version of the piece: “This article was updated on 9 and 11 December 2011. Since this story was published new evidence has led police to conclude that the News of the World was not responsible for the deletion of voicemails from Milly Dowler’s mobile phone that caused her parents to have false hopes that she was alive.”
The furore caused by the Dowler hacking revelations led three days later to the announcement that the News of the World was to close and prompted the current Leveson Inquiry into press standards.
Guardian journalist Nick Davies made the same claim in evidence to Leveson on 29 November.
He said: “Our understanding of the facts is that one of more of the News of the World journalists who then had to delete the messages in order to enable more to come through.”
The Dowlers gave moving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on 21 November in which they spoke of the devestating effect of being given false hope that their daughter was alive following her disappearance in March 2002.
That afternoon former News of the World private investigator Glenn Mulcaire issued a statement in which he denied deleting her messages.
“Because of the ongoing criminal investigation it is not possible for him to say much at this time,” it said. “However he fully supports the recent agreement by Surrey Police to disclose relevant documents form 2002 concerning voicemail interception of Milly Dowler’s phone.
‘He is confident that they will shed light on the actions he took then and the basis of them. Further, he confirms that he did not delete messages and had no reason to do so.”
The Guardian reported the new developments in the Milly Dowler story online on Friday night.
The David Leigh and Nick Davies bylined piece states: “Evidence retrieved from Surrey police logs shows that this ‘false hope’ moment occurred on the evening of Sunday 24 March 2002. It is not clear what caused this deletion.
“Phone company logs show that Milly last accessed her voicemail on Wednesday 20 March, so the deletion on Sunday cannot have been the knock-on effect of Milly listening to her messages. Furthermore, the deletion removed every single message from her phone. But police believe it cannot have been caused by the News of the World, which had not yet instructed private detective Glenn Mulcaire to hack Milly’s phone. Police are continuing to try to solve the mystery. “