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Hacking: new details raise questions over Milly Dowler hacking story

The judge heading the inquiry into media ethics in the UK has called for clarification of the matter as the long running phone hacking saga took another twist today.

The Guardian's frontpage story which escalated the hacking scandal.
The Guardian's frontpage story which escalated the hacking scandal.

THE VOICEMAIL MESSAGES of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler were “most likely” deleted automatically, police have said, contradicting earlier claims that journalists at the News of The World were responsible for deleting them.

The new claims from the Metropolitan Police have left the judge heading an inquiry into media ethics in the UK, Lord Leveson, to ask for further clarification of the matter.

It’s the latest twist in the long running phone hacking saga that has rocked the British establishment and led to the resignation of the Prime Minister’s communications chief, the resignation of two senior police officer, 18 arrests and the closure of the News of The World newspaper.

The claim that journalists deleted Dowler’s voicemails was central to a story run by The Guardian newspaper July of this year which escalated the hacking scandal in the UK. It was a significant contributing factor to the News of the World being shut down and a public inquiry being established.

The Met told the Leveson inquiry today that it did not have evidence that journalists deleted messages on Dowler’s phone as had been claimed in the original Guardian story which has since been clarified.

Detectives investigating the phone hacking scandal now believe that the voicemails were probably automatically deleted because they were more than 72 hours old.

‘False hope’

The parents of Dowler earlier this month told the inquiry of the ‘false hope’ they had when they were able to leave a message on their daughter’s phone indicating to them at the time that she was listening to and deleting her voicemails.

However, it was reported at the weekend that police in Surrey investigating Milly Dowler’s disappearance now believe that Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator commissioned by the tabloid, could not have deleted the messages as he was only tasked with accessing Dowler’s voicemail after the initial deletion of messages.

In an attempt to clarify the matter, the journalist who broke the original Dowler story, Nick Davies, has written for the Guardian website this afternoon and has raised the possibility that another News of The World journalist and not Mulcaire may have deleted the voicemails.

Counsel for victims of hacking, David Sherbourne, told the inquiry there was evidence that someone had accessed and deleted Milly’s voicemails over a number of days leading up to the ‘false hope’ moment, citing his claim that Surrey Police have the name of one journalist who had Dowler’s mobile number and pin, BBC News reports.

Leveson told the inquiry that he wanted to “get to the bottom” of the issue over the Guardian’s story and Milly Dowler’s voicemails.

Witnesses

As well as these new details, the inquiry also heard from the so-called “Fake Sheikh”, Mazher Mahmood today. The undercover reporter for the News of The World said he duped celebrities only to expose criminality, immorality or hypocrisy.

He said he had not been aware illegal phone hacking was going on until the newspaper’s royal reporter, Clive Goodman, was arrested in 2006 and said that “all the fingers were pointing towards the newsdesk” at the paper at the time.

He said his stories had to meet rigorous public interest standards, such as exposing criminality or “moral wrongdoing.” He also said celebrities were fair game “if they present themselves as wholesome characters and trade on that status” while behaving hypocritically.

Mahmood said he was proud that his investigations had resulted in more than 260 criminal prosecutions – including the convictions last month of three Pakistani cricketers for match-fixing.

The News of The World’s former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck told the inquiry the paper’s story about footballer David Beckham’s affair with Rebecca Loos was justified because he made millions from his “wholesome image”.

The paper’s former executive editor, Neil Wallis, also appeared today. He told the inquiry that he had never been involved in the paying of police or any public servant for information.

But he said he had a close relationship with the Met meeting with the police commissioner for dinner on eight occasions before 2009.

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