A Surrey Police press officer was played a recording of one of Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages by a reporter from the News of the World but no action was taken against the paper, the force confirmed today.
The unnamed journalist also told the press officer that they had obtained Milly’s mobile phone number and voicemail PIN from school children and listened to messages from a ‘tearful relative”.
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In a letter to the Culture Committee released today, the police force gives a timeline of events relating to the hacking of Milly’s voicemail messages after her disapparence in 2002.
The committee’s chairman, John Whittingdale, told Sky News that the NoW could potentially have “impeded” the police investigation into Milly’s disappearance.
He said the document submitted by Surrey Police appears to show that ‘several journalists at the News of the World were involved in hacking the voicemails left on Milly Dowler’s phone.”
“They did so in pursuit of a story rather than wanting to help the police with their inquiries,’he said.
“It appears as if they may have actually interfered or impeded the police in their investigations into what turned into a murder inquiry because they went on claiming they had evidence Milly Dowler was still alive,” he added.
Surrey Police said it first learnt the now defunct tabloid had listened to Milly’s messages on 13 April 2002.
At 11.57am West Mercia Police contacted Surrey Police telling them a recruitment agency had received two calls the day before from a woman claiming to be Milly’s mother asking whether her daughter worked for them.
The following day staff arrived at work ‘to find hordes of reporters from the News of the World waiting for their arrival”.
At 12.10pm that day the co-owner of the agency contacted Surrey Police claiming a News of the World reporter had been ‘harassing’them and ‘demanding to know what we know and saying he is working in full cooperation with the police”.
It was not true that police were working with the paper, today’s letter states.
Message was ‘pure coincedence’
Later that day a reporter at the paper told a senior police officer that they had a recording of a voicemail message left on Milly’s phone and that they had ‘significant information’in the police’s investigation.
At first police suspected the message was left as a result of a hoaxer – later jailed for five months – signing on at the agency in Milly’s name.
The reporter told the officer that the following message had been left on Milly’s phone: ‘Hello Mandy. This is [REDACTED] Recruitment Agency. We are ringing because we are starting interview today at [REDACTED. Call back on [REDACTED]. Thanks, bye bye.’
A reporter from the paper also told police that ‘an undercover reporter purporting to be a friend of Milly Dowler had spoken to [REDACTED] of the recruitment agency’who confirmed Amanda Dowler was registered with them.
However, today’s letter added: ‘Note that there is no evidence that the recruitment agency had confirmed that ‘Amanda Dowler was on the agency’s books, the contrary is the case”.
The reporter also informed police that there were other messages on Milly’s phone from a ‘tearful relative”, a young boy and someone saying: ‘It’s America, take it or leave it”.
The officer told the NoW reporter that they suspected it was being ‘subjected to a hoax”.
Asked why they were so convinced the message was not the work of a hoaxer, the reporter’s response was that the News of the World ‘had got Milly’s mobile phone number and PIN from school children”.
On 14 April the paper ran a story claiming Milly had signed up with the agency which alluded to the voicemail messages, and included a line form Surrey Police stating: ‘We are intrigued, but believe the message may have been left by a deranged woman hoaxer thought to have hampered other police investigations”.
On 20 April a NoW reporter played a Surrey Police press officer a recording of the message left by the recruitment agency on Milly’s voicemail.
The reporter later told the press officer they were ‘convinced that Milly had run away to the North of England and was seeking a job there”.
Police later learnt that the message left for Milly was in fact meant for a Ghanain woman named Nina and that the agency had either taken her number down incorrectly or else she had given the wrong number.
It was a ‘pure coincidence”, the police concluded.
When a police press officer told the NoW reporter the news, they replied by claiming this was ‘not true and was inconceivable”.
The reporter said the NoW was moving its investigation to the North England, where Milly had been ‘in person’and applied for a job in a factory.
The paper knew this ‘110 per cent”, the reporter claimed, adding: ‘We are absolutely certain.”
Tom Crone speculation incorrect
On 6 December, the NoW’s former legal chief Tom Crone told the House of Commons Culture Committee that the paper may have obtained Milly’s voicemail message from a police source, and that when Surrey Police first saw the story on 14 April they ‘may have contacted police to say that the story was not what they intended and that it must be removed from subsequent editions”.
Surrey Police said that ‘neither of Mr Crone’s speculations are correct”.
The force did not comment on how voicemails came to be deleted from Milly’s phone and said the Metropolital Police has not yet reached a conclusion.
In November the Met said that it was ‘unlikely’that reporters from the NoW deleted voicemails on the mobile phone of murdered school girl Milly Dowler in the first 72 hours after her disappearance – an act her parent’s said gave them ‘false hope’she was alive.
Last October, a lawyer for Surrey Police told the inquiry that it was “very likely” that an unspecified number of officers involved in the hunt for Milly had their phones hacked.
The Independent claimed today that among them could have been a Surrey police detective who acted as a liaison officer to the family.