Hacking: Children gave NoW Milly's phone number, say police

Milly Dowler
Image caption Milly Dowler was abducted and murdered by Levi Bellfield in 2002

A News of the World journalist told Surrey Police it had obtained Milly Dowler's mobile phone number from school friends, police have said.

In a letter to MPs, the force says that in 2002 its officers did not give the newspaper messages from her voicemail.

The claim that the newspaper accessed the then-missing girl's phone is at the heart of the hacking investigation.

The document for MPs does not say why the force did not investigate the paper after learning it had hacked the phone.

John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the Culture Media and Sport Committee which released the letter, said it appeared journalists at the now-defunct newspaper had "interfered or impeded" the police investigation.

The Dowler family said "no thought" appeared to have been given to the effect the events might have had on them.

The body of Milly, 13, was found six months after she had disappeared from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002.

Mark Lewis, the family's lawyer, said the letter "brings into light" the relationship between Surrey Police and the NoW, and this "has to be investigated".

He said it seemed there was "favouritism" by police in not taking any action against the NoW despite knowing about phone hacking at the paper.

News International said it had no comment on the police report.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it had completed its investigation into a Surrey police officer who was alleged to have taken payment for information about the Milly investigation.

The findings will be published in seven to 10 days, the IPCC said.

False hope

Last year, Surrey Police confirmed the NoW called the force in April 2002 revealing it had a recording obtained by accessing Milly's voicemail.

In a detailed 16-page letter published by MPs, the force sets out a series of conversations at the height of the hunt for Milly, between Surrey Police and the NoW.

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Media captionDowler family lawyer Mark Lewis said it seemed there was "favouritism" by police in not taking action against NoW

The account does not cover what happened to the voicemails and who was responsible for deletions, an event that gave Milly's parents false hope that she was still alive.

A journalist from the newspaper contacted the force almost a month after Milly's disappearance, revealing information relating to a specific voicemail relating to a recruitment agency.

The voicemail appeared to suggest that Milly had registered with the agency and was looking for work.

The NoW intended to report this as a potential lead in the hunt for the missing teenager.

Police later found the message had been an error that was irrelevant to the investigation. A member of staff at the agency had accidentally dialled a wrong number.

The police did not know about the voicemail or the recruitment agency until the journalist brought it to the their attention. The journalist said they knew it was a recording from Milly's phone because some of her friends had confirmed both her number and pin. The letter to MPs does not detail whether police accepted the number had come from friends or whether there could have been another source.

'Tearful relative'

The reporter also told the police that other voicemail messages on Milly's phone included a "tearful relative", a young boy and someone saying "It's America, take it or leave it".

The submission to MPs reveals somebody from the newspaper called the recruitment agency and falsely said they were assisting police. As publication neared, the paper fabricated a statement from the force.

The report also reveals that an unknown woman called the recruitment agency, posing as Milly's mother in an effort to get information about the missing girl.

Image caption The report discloses an unknown person impersonated Sally Dowler

In September 2011, the newspaper's former legal manager Tom Crone told MPs that the newspaper could have got the voicemail information from Surrey Police.

But in its letter to MPs, the force says: "The information [in the voicemail] was not provided to the NoW by Surrey Police.

"The NoW obtained that information by accessing Milly Dowler's voicemail. The message [referred to by the journalist] was left after Surrey Police had last [legally] accessed Milly Dowler's voicemail."

In a statement, the Dowler family said: "The report indicates that the police force were aware of a caller purporting to be Sally Dowler seeking information in 2002. No doubt there will be current investigations as to who that was as it was not Sally Dowler.

"Surrey Police have not explained why they did not investigate that deception in 2002. No thought seems to have been given to the effect on the Dowler family."

Committee chairman Mr Whittingdale said: "What [the letter] appears to tell is 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. 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."