Milly Dowler: her phone was hacked, remember?

There is no evidence from Surrey Police’s records that messages on murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile voicemail were deleted or caused to be deleted by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire or News of the World reporters.

“So the story published by the Guardian on July 4 is a lie”, cry tabloids and broadsheets in unison. Well, not quite.

As I have said in many a Twitter row on this issue since Saturday, if the Guardian’s story was inaccurate, then by all means, they should correct it. And apologise. Which they have done since then.

The Guardian story claimed that Milly’s mother, Sally, was given false hope that Milly was still alive three days after her disappearance because her voicemail inbox was not full anymore. She thought Milly had listened to messages and deleted them. The Guardian claimed the News of the World was responsible for such deletions. It has turned out that messages were deleted before Glenn Mulcaire was instructed by email by a NoW reporter, to access her voicemail. This was incorrect, but how far does it alter the significance of the story?

It is a fact and an undisputable fact, confirmed by the Met Police barrister Neil Garnham at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday (Monday, Dec 12), that at some stage during her disappearance Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages were intercepted by one or more News International reporters and that some messages would have been deleted as a result.

However in a rush to discredit the Leveson Inquiry, play down the phone hacking scandal and ignore pressing issues that must be addressed about the responsibilities of the press and predominant culture in certain newsrooms, the “phone hacking deniers” have come out in force.

These deniers should be reminded that, however wrong the Guardian may have been, they have apologised and corrected it. They should also be reminded that it took libel claims and a judge to get several newspapers to apologise to the McCanns and to Joanna Yeates’ landlord, Christopher Jefferies, after hundreds of grotesquely false and damaging stories.

The most astonishing (and insulting) appeal from sections of the press — the same sections which in fact chose to ignore phone hacking revelations until they could not hide from them anymore — is for the exoneration of Rupert Murdoch in the light of this new information – and even for an apology to Rupert Murdoch.

Milly Dowler’s family deserved Murdoch’s humble apology earlier this year. It wasn’t about the Guardian telling them about the “false hope” messages. In fact, Surrey Police told them about the deletion of messages. It was about one or more of their journalists thinking they were entitled to access the voicemail of a 13-year-old, to “get ahead in the game” and land that scoop, that front page story that no other newspaper would have. It was intrusive. It was grotesquely intrusive. The Guardian having made a mistake in reporting it or not, the hacking of her phone and allegations made by Surrey Police still caused a great deal of pain to Milly’s family.

How can anyone in their right mind overlook this and rush to deny responsibility?

I can understand why certain newspapers would like the Leveson Inquiry to go away. It must be very uncomfortable for newspaper editors to listen to people like Mary-Ellen Field and Christopher Jefferies. And there are more who have not been put in the witness stand. Many more of those stories. Due to my position within the campaign, I get to hear stories that may never be made public. They are stories of newspapers sneering in the face of ordinary people who mostly can’t defend themselves without going to court and who have been failed by the PCC.

I deal with victims in confidence who have suffered all sorts of abuse from the press. There are those who have had their phones hacked, those libelled, those monstered, one who lost her job, those whose relationships have fallen apart because of the effect press coverage has had on their lives. And there are many more.

It is very unfair of certain editors and journalists to get into “newspaper wars” over the Guardian’s coverage of the Milly Dowler story and completely ignore the effect their actions or actions of their predecessors had on those people.

“You are a campaign”, you may say. “You have an agenda as well”. Very true.

But I am here, acknowledging that the Guardian jumped the gun in reporting the story the way it did. They took a risk and it backfired.

I am considering all the facts and trying to carry out a fair examination of what happened.

Do I think the inquiry would have happened without that detail in the story? I do. But ask yourself. Forget about the “false hope” messages. Would you still be outraged to learn a missing 13-year-old girl’s mobile voicemail was being hacked into and a journalist listening to pleas by her family, begging her to return home, with the sole intent of being the first one to get a story?

Before any of the revelations of July 2011, Martin Moore and Brian Cathcart decided they wanted to launch a campaign to call for a public inquiry into illegal information-gathering by the press and other egregious practices.

A month before the launch, the date was decided, and it was July 6 this year. There was a great deal of surprise when the Milly Dowler revelations came to light. The campaign had no idea. It was a coincidence and one, we acknowledge, that sped up the process immensely.

But make no mistake: had that not happened, you would still be hearing from us. However long it might have taken we would still be campaigning for a full public inquiry into phone hacking and practices of the press. Relentlessly.

We rely on people like you to make a difference.

Give now to support the campaign for a free and accountable press.



Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

December 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I said this somewhere else, but had the story of Sarah Payne’s mother been given the mobile phone by NOTW (which was then hacked) been the first of many stories this July, then I can’t help thinking that what transpired this year would have still happened.

Montague Brenchreply
December 13, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Thank you Thais, a most excellent appraisal of the story so far. Much power to your elbow,as it were. I am reading your tweets daily.

Latin masterreply
December 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Amateurish views summed up by praise from idiots saying rubbish like “I can’t help thinking”. It was the sort of nonsense that got the Guardian in trouble – and incidentally what about this newspaper apologising to the Dowler’s for the further anguish they put them through? Whatever happened to reporters – and Yes I do include the tabloids in this – simply reporting facts and not their own ridiculous “thinking” theories.

Gareth the Parethreply
December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thais, I’m confused. You say that the Guardian ‘jumped the gun’ on the story, but did they? David Sherborne made a statement regarding this on the 12th December. He said that he’s seen disclosure and the following points can be “postively made”
1) NI accessed Dowler voicemails and caused auto-deletions
2) Mulcaire is *said* not be responsible for deletion on the 24th March because he wasnt called in until after.
2) Another NI journalist (whose name can’t be mentioned) was in possession of phone details but not through Mulcaire.
3) On the 24th March, all voicemails were deleted and not through the auto-deletion mechanism.

Sherborne asks, if not the police and not Dowler family and not Mulcaire…. “only so many culprits”, implying that nameless NI journalist was responsible.

I’ve read nothing subsequently to contradict Sherborne’s statement. The Guardian were only wrong in fingering Mulcaire.

Thais Portilho-Shrimptonreply
December 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm
– In reply to: Gareth the Pareth

It is still only a supposition that a NoW journalist was reponsible for the deletions that caused the “false hope” messages. As Garnham said, it is possible, but unlikely that a NoW journalist did so. So one cannot affirm that definitely happened. I won’t and nobody should state that as a fact, in my view, until matters are clear.

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