NOTW reporters ‘hacked, lied and harassed’ for Dowler scoop

News of the World journalists used phone hacking, harassment and lies to secure scoops on missing British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, police reported, detailing a litany of abusive press practices.

In one incident, someone impersonated the teen’s mother and called a potential witness to ask for information about the 13-year-old, who was found dead months later in September 2002.

British police did not specify who made the call.

The new details about the NOTW’s relentless pursuit of information about the Dowler case, revealed in a letter to lawmakers released yesterday, illuminate one of the most sordid episodes of the British phone-hacking saga.

The scandal over illegal practices at the now-defunct tabloid exploded in July last year after The Guardian newspaper reported that the NOTW had intercepted Dowler’s voicemail messages while she was still considered missing.

The revelation that journalists had invaded a murdered girl’s privacy to score scoops horrified Britons and led to a cascade of lawsuits, resignations, arrests and official inquiries.

Surrey Police Deputy Chief Constable Jerry Kirkby, whose force investigated the girl’s disappearance, said in the letter that the NOTW freely admitted to police that they’d broken into Dowler’s voicemail, saying they had obtained her mobile phone number and password from fellow schoolchildren.

Kirkby also said a potential witness called his force to complain that a NOTW reporter was harassing him for information. He said the reporter claimed to be working in “full cooperation” with police.

Kirkby said the “reporter’s assertion that he was working with the police was untrue.” The reporter’s name was redacted from the letter.

The most troubling incident outlined in Kirkby’s letter was a pair of phone calls made to a recruitment agency by someone claiming to be the teenager’s mother, Sally Dowler, on April 13, 2002.

At the time, the NOTW wrongly believed Dowler had run away to find work with the agency and was staking out the premises with what one employee described as “hordes of reporters.”

Dowler family attorney Mark Lewis said in an email that Sally Dowler never made the call.

“No doubt there will be current investigations as to who that was,” he said.

Lewis also asked why Surrey Police did not act sooner to investigate the deception, saying that “no thought seems to have been given to the effect on the Dowler family.”

An email seeking comment from News International, the NOTW’s former publisher, was not immediately returned.

The Guardian reported last July that the NOTW hacked Milly’s mobile and erased messages shortly after her disappearance in March 2002.

However, police have since indicated that, while reporters did access voicemails, they are unlikely to have been responsible for the deleted messages which gave the family false hope.

Instead the recordings may have been automatically removed by the phone company after being listened to.

The Surrey Police letter timetable published today — dated January 17 2012 — does not shed any further light on that issue.

It also dismisses the idea that the force was the source of the tabloid’s stories, and said there was “no evidence” of any discussions about voicemail evidence after April 20 2002.

However, Mr Kirby stressed that the internal investigation is not yet complete.

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