The News of the World told police it had hacked the phone of missing British schoolgirl Milly Dowler and wrote a story based on her voicemail messages which incorporated a comment from the police, a court heard yesterday.
Former managing editor Stuart Kuttner explained how the tabloid had accessed the 13-year-old’s voicemail messages in 2002 and offered police the information as a possible lead, prosecutors said.
Milly was later found murdered, and the revelation that her phone was among hundreds hacked by the News of the World prompted owner Rupert Murdoch to shut down the Sunday tabloid amid a huge outcry in Jul 2011.
Kuttner, 73, is on trial for phone hacking at the Old Bailey court alongside former News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. They all deny the charges. Prosecutors claim that, although Brooks was on holiday in Dubai when Milly’s phone was hacked, she remained in contact with Coulson, then her deputy editor and also her lover.
The court heard that a story published in the first edition of the paper on Apr 14, 2002, quoted the voicemail message left for Milly by a recruitment service.
“We’re ringing because we’ve got some interviews starting, can you call me back? Thank you, bye bye,” the message said.
But this text was removed from the second edition and by the third edition, the story focused on police suspicions, as relayed to Kuttner, that the message was left by a “professional hoaxer”.
The court also heard that chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, who has pleaded guilty to phone hacking, called police and told them the tabloid “had access” to Milly’s voicemail.
On Monday, Coulson’s lawyer urged jurors to “keep an open mind” and confirmed the 45-year-old would be giving evidence later in the trial, which is expected to last six months.
“It’s his case he was never party to any agreement to hack phones, whatever others might have been doing on his watch,” said defence lawyer Timothy Langdale.
Langdale also revealed that Coulson had his own phone hacked by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and suggested this would have been unlikely if he had known about the practice.
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