The Met Police has told the Leveson Inquiry that it does not believe the News of the World was responsible for the deletion of voicemail messages which gave the Dowler family false hope their daughter was alive.
QC for the Met Police Neil Garnham has addressed the Leveson Inquiry in the wake of reports in The Guardian, and elsewhere, which have cast significant doubt over the Guardian’s assertion about voicemail deletions in its first Milly Dowler phone-hacking story of 4 July.
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The story had huge repurcussions – prompting the closure of the News of the World days later, and the creation of the Leveson Inquiry.
Garnham told the inquiry that the Dowlers were repeatedly calling Milly’s mobile phone in the days following her disappearance, that a number of voicemail messages had been left for her and that her voicemail had become full so they could no longer leave messages.
He said that the Dowlers had gone to the Birdseye building to view CCTV footage linked to her disappearance on 24 March when Milly’s mother was shocked to discover she could hear Milly’s voicemail message – meaning that messages had apparently been deleted freeing up her voicemail in-box.
He said: “She was elated and thought there was a chance Milly had deleted her voicemail and was alive.”
He added that just before the trial of Levi Bellfield for Milly’s Murder, in June this year, the Dowlers were told that Milly”s phone had been hacked by News of the World investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
He said: “Mrs Dowler made the connection with the incident at the Birdseye building”, adding that it was her belief then that Glenn Mulcaire or some other journalist working for the News of the World was responsible.
Garnham noted that the Guardian story, of 4 July, then stated: “The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive. Police feared evidence may have been destroyed.”
Garnham said: “The MPS do not know where the Guardian got this information…that matter is subject to further investigation.”
Noting that Glenn Mulcaire has denied deleting Milly’s voicemail messages, Garnham said that the Met Police has yet to complete its investigations into this.
But he did say: “The visit by the Dowlers to the Birdseye building took place on 24 March 2002. Glenn Mulcaire was tasked in relation to the Dowlers at some point after that date. It is unlikely that anything Glenn Mulcaire did was responsible for anything Mrs Dowler heard when she called Milly’s phone.”
He said it was not yet possible to fully explain what happened, adding that the MPS had no evidence to support the proposition that other News International journalists were responsible for deleting the messages and that this was thought “unlikely”.
He said that the Met Police had established that it was an automatic feature of the voicemail system for read messages to be deleted automatically after 72 hours and he noted that the incident at the Birdseye building was 72 hours after Milly’s disappearance.
He said that the Met Police had spoken to the Dowlers’ lawyer, Mark Lewis, about this but that he had said they would not want to talk to the police.
The Guardian reported on Friday the new evidence about the deletion of Milly’s voicemail messages and in that report said: ‘Detectives told Milly’s parents in April that the paper’s journalists had intercepted and deleted messages on the murdered teenager’s phone.”
But the Met’s QC said this afternoon: “Some of the press reports suggest the MPS told Mrs Dowler News of the World journalists had deleted Milly Dowler’s voicemails. I can see from MPS records that the MPS did not tell the Dowlers that voicemails have been deleted for the simple reason that they did not know of any such allegations.”
The QC representing the hacking victims, David Sherborne, said his understanding is that a News International journalist was in possession of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone number and her PIN in the days after her disappearance.
He added: “On 24 March, all the voicemails on Milly Dowler’s mobile phone were deleted. That can’t be the result of an automatic deletion which takes place after 72 hours because there were voicemail messages that had been left between the 21st and the 24th.
“Someone was continuing to access that voicemail between the 21st and the 24th that did delete those voicemail messages…If it wasn’t the police and it wasn’t the family and it wasn’t Mr Mulcaire then, with respect, there are only so many possible culprits.”
Although part one of the Leveson Inquiry is not concerned with the details of the hacking scandal, Lord Leveson said that the would be seeking further representations to get to the bottom of this matter.
Bob and Sally Dowler have released the following joint statement: ‘The Dowlers stand by the statement which was made on their behalf at the end of last week.
“They have a clear recollection that the police told them that the News of the World had listened to their missing daughter’s voicemail and deleted some of the messages.
“They have asked all of the press to leave them alone and, while they remain willing to help Lord Leveson, they do not propose to make any further statement.”