BOSSES at the News of the World hacked murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemail while her family was living in an "agony of hope" she was still alive, a jury heard.
Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire hacked the 13-year-old's phone for the newspaper while her parents "yearned for their missing daughter", prosecutor Andrew Edis QC told the Old Bailey.
Former editor Rebekah Brooks, her then deputy Andy Coulson and former managing editor Stuart Kuttner were "criminally involved" in the phone-hacking conspiracy, Mr Edis told their trial.
Describing what the Dowlers were going through at the time, he said: "It is obvious her family through that time would have been in an agony of hope that they might find her."
Milly disappeared on March 21 2002 and her body was not found until November of that year.
The revelation that the Sunday paper had hacked the schoolgirl's phone eventually led to the closure of the NotW in 2011.
Mr Edis said Kuttner even went to Surrey Police to tell them the newspaper had a voicemail tape which could assist with the investigation.
"It is good that they gave that information to the police," he said.
"What is less good is that they gave the information to the police on Saturday, when they had had it for several days."
He told the jury it was possible that the force "could and should have investigated" that information at the time but officers would have been focused on finding the missing girl.
And he claimed Brooks took a particularly interest in the Dowler story because of her previous involvement with a similar case, the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne.
Brooks (45) of Churchill, Oxfordshire; Coulson, also 45, from Charing in Kent; and the tabloid's ex-managing editor Kuttner (73) from Woodford Green, Essex, all deny conspiring with others to hack phones between October 3 2000 and August 9 2006. Mulcaire has already admitted phone hacking.