9 May 2012

We may never know how Milly Dowler’s voicemails were deleted

The Metropolitan Police tell the Leveson inquiry that the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler was hacked by the News of the World, but cannot say if her messages were deleted by journalists.

In July 2010, the Guardian claimed that messages were deleted by News of the World reporters after the 13-year-old had gone missing, giving her family false hope that she was still alive.

The Guardian told the inquiry on Wednesday that it had conceded in December 2011 that it should not have stated this as fact.

A police statement to the inquiry said “it’s not possible to state with any certainty” if Milly’s voicemails were deleted manually or removed from her inbox automatically, and it may never be possible to find out exactly what had happened to the messages because of incomplete phone records and the lapse in time.

The Guardian’s original claim was the most shocking allegation made against the now-defunct News of the World, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International newspaper group, and led to David Cameron setting up the Leveson inquiry into press standards.

Text message

Before the inquiry started on Wednesday, it was alleged that Mr Cameron sent a text message to former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks telling her to “keep her head up” in the week she resigned.

An updated biography of the prime minister says Mr Cameron told Mrs Brooks she would “get through her difficulties” just days before she stood down over the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.

After contact between them had apparently came to a sudden end, the prime minister is alleged to have sent a messsenger to Rebekah Brooks saying that he could not remain in touch because Labour leader Ed Miliband was putting pressure on him.

Cameron: Practically A Conservative, which is being serialised in the Times, says Mr Cameron and Mrs Brooks visited one another at their homes in south Oxfordshire.

“The wider public might have liked to know too of the text message that Charlie Brooks (Rebekah Brooks’ husband) told friends Cameron sent to Brooks at the beginning of the week in which she resigned, telling her to keep her head up and she’d get through her difficulties,” the authors say.

‘Abrupt halt’

“Such contact came to an abrupt halt soon afterwards, with Brooks not wanting to embarrass Cameron and he wanting to be able to say, hand on heart, that they had not been in touch.

“But it was claimed that Cameron did send an emissary to Brooks to mitigate his sudden coldness towards her. The gist of the message was: ‘Sorry I couldn’t have been more loyal to you as you have been to me, but Ed Miliband had me on the run’.”

On Friday, Mrs Brooks is due to appear before the Leveson inquiry into media standards. Former Number 10 communications director Andy Coulson will appear on Thursday.

Potential embarrassment

There is speculation the inquiry could release emails and text messages Mr Cameron and Mrs Brooks sent to one another, which could embarrass the prime minister.

Mrs Brooks edited the News of the World and The Sun before becoming chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper division in September 2009.

The inquiry has already heard that Mrs Brooks regularly met Mr Cameron and other top politicians along with Rupert and James Murdoch.

Mrs Brooks has twice been arrested by Scotland Yard detectives investigating allegations of phone hacking, corrupt payments to public officials, and an attempt to pervert the course of justice. She was bailed and has not been charged.

Mr Cameron set up the Leveson inquiry in July 2011 in response to revelations that the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone after she disappeared in 2002.