News24

Newscorp lied, hacked to get scoops

2012-01-23 21:46

London - News of the World journalists used phone hacking, harassment and lies to secure scoops on missing British schoolgirl Milly Dowler, police reported on Monday, 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 bogus call.

The new details about the News of the World's relentless pursuit of information about the Dowler case, revealed in a letter to lawmakers released on Monday, 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 after the Guardian newspaper reported that the News of the World 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 News of the World freely admitted to police that they'd broken into Dowler's voicemail, saying they had obtained her cell phone number and password from fellow schoolchildren.

Kirkby also said a potential witness called his force to complain that a News of the World reporter was harassing him for information. He said the reporter claimed to be working in "full co-operation" 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.

Agency called

The most troubling incident outlined in Kikby'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 News of the World 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 e-mail 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 e-mail seeking comment from News International, the News of the World's former publisher, was not immediately returned.