Surrey Police knew for nine years that the News of the World had been hacking Milly Dowler’s voicemails and was even played a recording of one message by a journalist from the Sunday newspaper, but never took action about the law-breaking or told her anguished family.
The force, which was investigating the schoolgirl’s disappearance and murder in 2002, has stayed silent for a decade despite repeatedly being given evidence of the NOTW illegally accessing the 13-year-old’s mobile phone messages during the middle of its inquiries. Two other police forces also had knowledge of the hacking, it emerged yesterday in highly damaging evidence released by Parliament.
In a trail of logged exchanges between Surrey Police and journalists from the now-defunct Murdoch-owned tabloid, officers and public relations officials from the force are shown to have been fully aware of how NOTW journalists illegally hacked into her mobile phone during 2002, and yet did and said nothing until late 2011.
The report, which details exchanges during the crucial weeks of the police hunt, is a heavily redacted summary of the initial findings of Surrey’s deputy chief constable, Jerry Kirkby.
The report was published by the culture and media select committee of MPs which has been investigating the phone-hacking scandal.
Surrey Police, despite its stonewalling, had discussed phone hacking with the NOTW in 2002 and had failed to take action against the News International title – action which could have halted the tabloid’s criminal activities, which continued for almost a decade.
The logged exchanges in the Kirkby report reveals journalists from the NOTW interfering in the Surrey investigation, offering excuses about where they were getting information from, and attempting to bully police press officers into backing the paper’s theories on Milly’s disappearance.
There was also a formal meeting between representatives of the tabloid and Surrey Police. The report says this meeting took place in July 2002. However, no notes have been given of what was discussed.
The report edits out the names of the NOTW journalists and the senior police officers who exchanged information. Kirkby said this was done at the request of the Metropolitan Police which is pursuing a criminal investigation into key individuals at the centre of the hacking scandal.
Surrey officers admit they knew the NOTW held a recording of Milly’s voicemails messages; that the force was played the message; that they were told the NOTW had got Milly’s phone and pin number from “school friends”.
The NOTW journalists redacted in the report are shown to be engaged in harassment, blagging, bullying, deception and a refusal to accept the views of the police investigation.