The police watchdog launches an investigation into the conduct of a senior police officer in relation to his alleged knowledge that Milly Dowler’s mobile phone was hacked by the News of the World.
Surrey Police Authority voluntarily referred the conduct of deputy chief constable Craig Denholm to the Independent Police Complaints Commission on 21 June.
Mr Denholm was the senior investigating officer for part of Operation Ruby, the Surrey Police investigation into the abduction and murder of Milly Dowler in 2002.
The IPCC investigation is considering whether Mr Denholm was aware during Operation Ruby that the now-defunct tabloid had accessed Milly Dowler’s voicemail in 2002 and his handling of that information.
A second officer, temporary Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall, has been referred over a separate matter. Ms Woodall was a Detective Chief Inspector and the senior investigating officer on Operation Ruby from 2006 onwards.
The IPCC investigation is examining the information she provided to Surrey Police during the course of the internal inquiry into the force response to allegations that Milly Dowler’s voicemail had been illegally accessed in 2002.
The family of Milly Dowler is aware of the IPCC investigation.
In a statement, the Dowler family said: “The Dowler family welcomes the proper investigation of what happened at Surrey Police 10 years ago. They regret that the passage of time means that some individuals can now no longer be investigated. The family have no further comment to make at this time.”
The allegation that Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked by the News of the World was one of the most shocking revelations during the phone-hacking scandal, which until then had been considered just a matter for the world of celebrity.
It triggered an extraordinary set of events including the News of the World’s closure by its owner News International and the launch of the Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.
13-year-old Milly was abducted in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in March 2002 and her body was not found for another six months.
The Dowlers were told in April 2011 that their daughter Milly’s mobile phone may have been hacked in the days after her disappearance. Scotland Yard officers contacted her parents about the allegations, a month before Levi Bellfield went on trial for her murder, solicitor Mark Lewis said.
But there has been reports that Surrey Police may have known that the News of the World had accessed the schoolgirl’s answer phone messages within a month of her disappearance.
Milly’s mother later told the Leveson inquiry of the emotional trauma caused to the family by the false belief that Milly might still be alive because recorded messages were being deleted from her phone. However a later inquiry by the Metropolitan Police found that it was impossible to say if the messages were being deleted automatically by the phone system or whether they were deleted by a News of the World journalist.
Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp, which owns News International, and his son James, News International’s chairman, apologised for the scandal while giving evidence to MPs at a select committee hearing in July last year.
Rupert Murdoch told MPs it was the most humble day of his life, adding that he was “absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed” when he heard that Milly Dowler’s phone might have been hacked. In October 2011 News International paid the Dowler £2m in settlement of a civil claim.
The issue of the Dowler family’s phones being hacked into was raised in early 2011 at a Commons select committee but, John Yates, at the time acting deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, said that he was unaware of the allegations.
Last August, the IPCC launched an investigation after receiving a voluntary referral from Surrey Police. The IPCC has confirmed that the latest inquiry is entirely separate from that investigation.