Sunday 21 January 2018

Milly Dowler's sister challenges David Cameron over 'incestuous' relationship between politicians and press

Milly Dowler: one of the main hacking victims. PA
Milly Dowler: one of the main hacking victims. PA
UK Prime Minister David Cameron
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie leave the Old Bailey in London after their acquittal. AP
Bob and Sally Dowler, the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Photo: PA
Levi Bellfield is thought to be the first person to receive a second whole-life sentence (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Ellen Branagh

Milly Dowler's sister has slammed the "incestuous" relationship between Britain's top politicians and the press as she spoke out in the wake of the first verdicts in the phone hacking trial.

Gemma Dowler, whose younger sister's phone was hacked after she disappeared in 2002, said she wanted to make sure "something good" came out of the scandal and called on Prime Minister David Cameron to make good on promises he made to her family over press regulation.

Miss Dowler's comments were made in a video released in the wake of the conviction of former Downing Street spin doctor Andy Coulson for plotting to hack phones.

Revelations that the News of the World had hacked missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone in spring 2002 sparked public outrage and contributed to the tabloid's downfall.

The eight-month phone hacking trial heard how former NotW chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck tasked private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to hack Milly's phone in spring 2002.

A message left by a recruitment agency suggested the 13-year-old may have been alive in Telford and the NotW dispatched reporters to investigate the false lead before Stuart Kuttner told Surrey Police about the message.

Former NoTW editor Rebekah Brooks, who was cleared of hacking charges by the same jury yesterday, was in charge of the paper in 2002 but was on holiday in Dubai at the time Milly's phone was hacked, leaving Coulson at the helm.

In the wake of yesterday's verdicts, Miss Dowler called for Mr Cameron and other party leaders to implement proposals made following the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

She said her family had stayed silent during the court case to make sure the defendants got a fair trial.

She said: "But now that it's over, I want to speak out about what I think should happen next to make sure that something good comes out of these terrible events.

"We have known for ages that serious crimes were being committed on a major scale in parts of the press.

"Ordinary people have suffered terribly from journalists who recklessly intruded into private grief and stole private information."

She branded Ipso, the new press watchdog backed by most of the industry, as "meaningless", adding: "This is just the newspapers looking after themselves.

"Something needs to be done to make sure what happened to my family doesn't happen again."

She went on: "But there are other, equally worrying problems.

"Most important and damaging of all is the incestuous relationship between our top politicians and the press.

"For example Tony Blair, the prime minister when Milly disappeared, didn't phone us when he heard that Milly's phone had been hacked.

"But when he heard that the police were investigating Rebekah Brooks, he phoned her to offer his support.

"Three long years have passed since my meeting with David Cameron and the other party leaders.

"We were pleased that he was prepared to initiate the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

"However, I have not forgotten the promises that were made to my family and all of the other victims of press 'intrusion.'"

Quoting Mr Cameron's comments made at the Leveson Inquiry - in which he said he would "never forget" meeting the Dowlers at Downing Street - she said: "Many of the victims, including my parents, had to relive some terrible tragedies when they gave evidence about press abuse.

"They did that in the hope and expectation that the Prime Minister would make sure things changed as he promised.

"Having gone to the expense of holding this inquiry, surely all the party leaders should now keep their promises and implement Lord Justice Leveson's proposals.

"My message to the Prime Minister and all the party leaders is this: This new fake regulator Ipso falls way short of Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations and is nowhere near good enough.

"Please keep your promise to us the victims that you will deliver real and permanent change to make sure what happened to us will never happen again."

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