FORMER officers at Surrey Police who were involved or knew about the force's 2002 investigation of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, were "afflicted by a form of collective amnesia" over their failure to investigate allegations that the News of the World had hacked her phone, according to a report from the police watchdog.
The summary report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission's deputy chair, Deborah Glass, said that it was "scarcely credible" that no one connected to the Dowler investigation recognised the "relevance and importance" of the News of the World's illegal phone hacking activities.
The report also states that "the investigation found it hard to understand how the officer in charge [Craig Denholm, who was head of crime in Surrey in 2002] could not have been aware of the alleged hacking."
The full IPCC report on Surrey and the Dowler case will only be published after the current criminal cases have passed through the courts. The Crown Prosecution Service requested that the full report be held back.
However in a six- page advanced summary, Ms Glass says that although there was extensive knowledge surrounding alleged hacking within the investigation team, and in Surrey police as a whole, and that this was referred to in documents which Mr Denholm is known to have received, the investigation was unable to find any witnesses or documentary evidence that contradicted Mr Denholm's repeated assertions to the IPCC "that he did not know and had not made the relevant connections".
The report concludes starkly that "phone hacking was crime in 2002 and should have been investigated." It refers toformer senior officers who "appear to have been afflicted by a form of collective amnesia" about why the NOTW's hacking activities were not investigated.
Ms Glass states : "In view of the widespread knowledge uncovered in this investigation, we consider it scarcely credible that no one connected to the Milly Dowler investigation recognised the relevance and importance of the knowledge that Surrey Police had in 2002, before this information was disclosed by Operation Weeting."
She also says that "it is more surprising that alarm bells did not appear to have been rung and connections made in 2007 when two people connected to the News of the World pleaded guilty to phone hacking offences."
Despite these hard-hitting conclusions from the IPCC, the report concludes that there was "insufficient evidence" to support a case being mounted against Mr Denholm on gross misconduct.
Mr Denholm is currently the deputy chief constable of Surrey Police.
The IPCC probe also investigated Maria Woodall, currently a temporary detective superintendent who was a detective sergeant on the Dowler case in 2002. Ms Woodall is described as being "frank" about her knowledge of phone hacking. The IPCC looked at her role in 2007 when the first hacking convictions took place.
The investigation again concluded that there was no case to answer for misconduct.
The commission said in today's report "it has found that former senior officers at Surrey Police were 'afflicted by a form of collective amnesia' in relation to the force’s failure to investigate an allegation in 2002 that the voicemail of Amanda (Milly) Dowler had been hacked by the News of the World (NOTW).
"The IPCC investigation found that there was knowledge of the allegation in 2002 at all levels in Operation Ruby, Surrey Police’s investigation into the abduction and murder of Milly Dowler, but that no action was taken to investigate it despite an indication that a crime had potentially been committed."
Deborah Glass said: “We will never know what would have happened had Surrey Police carried out an investigation into the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone in 2002.
“Phone hacking was a crime and this should have been acted upon, if not in 2002, then later, once the News of the World’s widespread use of phone hacking became a matter of public knowledge and concern.
“Our investigation has heard from officers and former officers from Surrey Police who have expressed surprise and dismay that it wasn’t investigated.
“We have not been able to uncover any evidence, in documentation or witness statements, of why and by whom that decision was made: former senior officers, in particular, appear to have been afflicted by a form of collective amnesia in relation to the events of 2002. This is perhaps not surprising, given the events of 2011 and the public outcry that the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone produced.
“However, it is scarcely credible that no-one connected to the Milly Dowler investigation recognised the relevance and importance of the information Surrey Police held in 2002 before this was disclosed by Operation Weeting.
“Surrey Police has apologised to the Dowler family for their failure and they were right to do so.”
Former nightclub bouncer Levi Bellfield was convicted of Milly's murder in June 2011, some nine years after the teenager vanished as she walked home from school after leaving Walton-on-Thames station.
James Cusick, Independent.co.uk