A new police report reveals that News of the World journalists lied to sources and openly admitted to hacking the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose disappearance would become the flashpoint for the most notorious incident in the phone hacking scandal.
The UK's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee released new documents from the Surrey Police on Monday showing that News of the World reporters misled people about the extent of their relationship with the police and told investigators that they had acquired Dowler's phone number from her school friends.
Dowler's disappearance (she was subsequently found dead) became a huge national news story in Britain when she went missing in 2002. In July of last year, the Guardian alleged that News of the World journalists had hacked into her voicemail and deleted some of her messages, leading her parents to think she was still alive. Though the latter allegation has since been possibly disproven, the Surrey report confirms that reporters on the paper had indeed accessed Dowler's messages.
Dowler went missing on March 21, 2002; on April 13, 2002, police received a call from another police department. They were told that, after an employment agency had received two phone calls from someone claiming to be Dowler's mother, people from the agency had arrived at work to "find hordes of reporters from the News of the World" waiting. The reporters had somehow known of the calls and had shown up to find out more.
Someone from the agency then contacted the police directly, complaining of being harassed by a News journalist. The reporter told the agency worker that he was working in "full cooperation" with the police. That was a lie.
The Surrey police then received a call from a News of the World journalist on the same day. The journalist said that he was in possession of a voicemail that had been left for Milly Dowler by someone at the employment agency, telling her to come in for an interview. He also said that the paper had "confirmed with Milly's school friends that this was her number." A reporter later told the police that he had gotten Dowler's PIN number from children as well. For whatever reason, the police apparently made no attempt to follow up on this admission of clearly illegal behavior.
As it turned out, there had been a mix-up. The agency had called Dowler by mistake, looking for someone named "Nana," but since Dowler's real name was "Amanda," reporters had either misheard or chosen to mishear the name. When the police told a News of the World journalist this information, the reporter said it was "not true" and "inconceivable." By this time, though, the paper had already run stories about the voicemails.
A claim by a reporter that the employment agency had confirmed that an "Amanda Dowler" was registered with them also proved to be untrue.
John Whittingdale, chair of the parliamentary committee that released the report, told Sky News on Monday that "several News of the World reporters appeared to have hacked Milly Dowler's phone." He also said that "it appears they may actually have interfered or impeded the police."
Read the report: Surrey Police Report On Milly Dowler