Thursday 23 November 2017

Phone inquiry: Milly Dowler’s mobile hacked by one or more journalists

Sam Marsden and Ellen Branagh

ONE or more News of the World journalists deleted voicemails from murdered teenager Milly Dowler's mobile phone, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards heard today.

Guardian journalist Nick Davies said private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was the "facilitator" of the hacking of the schoolgirl's phone by the now-defunct Sunday paper.

He told the inquiry: "Mulcaire facilitated the hacking by one or more News of the World journalists.

"And our understanding of the facts is that it was one or more of the News of the World journalists who then had to delete the messages in order to enable more to come through."

Mulcaire was jailed along with the News of the World's former royal editor Clive Goodman in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on phones belonging to royal aides.

Mr Davies, who revealed the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World in a series of Guardian articles, said Mulcaire's role had been misunderstood.

He told the inquiry: "The facilitator was Glenn Mulcaire. There is a misunderstanding, I think, around the way that he operates.

"He does not actually, on the whole, do the listening to the messages himself. Most of that is done by the journalists themselves.

"Mulcaire's job was to enable them to do that where there's some problem because he's a brilliant blagger, so he could gather information, data from the mobile phone company.

"Occasionally, I think, he did special projects - I think perhaps the royal household would be an example."

Mulcaire last week denied deleting messages from 13-year-old Milly's phone after she went missing in 2002.

The murdered schoolgirl's mother Sally has told the inquiry of her and her husband Bob's joy when they were given false hope that their daughter was still alive after some of her voicemails were erased.

She said: "I rang her phone. It clicked through onto her voicemail, so I heard her voice and it was just like, 'she's picked up her voicemail, Bob, she's alive!'

"When we were told about the hacking, that's the first thing I thought."

Mr Davies told the inquiry that the Guardian had to weigh up the balance between the public interest and the Dowlers' privacy before publishing the story about Milly's phone being hacked.

"What we were disclosing was so important that we needed to find some way of getting it into the public domain," he said.

"On the other hand, the family have been through hell, I really was worried about digging it up.

"So the step that we took to try to reduce the impact for the family was that via Surrey Police we sent a detailed message saying, 'look, here's what we are preparing by way of the story. This is just to alert you to the fact that we are expecting to publish this within the next 48 hours'."

He noted that Mrs Dowler had told the inquiry she was distressed by the publication of the story, adding: "I wish she hadn't been."

Mr Davies said he would like to see a "public interest advisory body" set up that could advise journalists and ordinary people on what stories are in the public interest or not.

"In the event of a dispute, a criminal prosecution or a civil action, I would be able to produce that advice and say, well, look this is what I was told," he said.

He told the inquiry journalists from different titles had varying definitions of what was in the public interest.

"People from the News of the World will tell you in all sincerity that it was in the public interest that they exposed Max Mosley's sex life," he said.

"I profoundly disagree with them, I don't think that was in the public interest."

He said the issue emerged during the Guardian's coverage of the US war logs from Afghanistan obtained by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

"It became apparent that the material contained information which could get people on the ground in Afghanistan seriously hurt," he said.

"They are implicitly identified as sources of information for the coalition forces."

But Mr Davies claimed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's attitude was that Afghans who gave information to the coalition forces should die anyway.

He said Mr Assange told him: "They deserve to die, they are informers, they are collaborators."

The journalist added: "I would love to have been able to go to a specific advisory body and say, 'where is the public interest here?' in order to be able to show it to him, to persuade him."

Mr Davies said, on reflection, he did not think the media should have agreed to a blackout on revealing that Prince Harry was serving in Afghanistan as they had been "colluding in a PR story".

He also referred to the media's decision not to report that the child of a "senior politician" in the UK had attempted suicide.

"This is a story which we have never published, and it's very, very debatable as to whether or not we should have done," he said.

"You will hear journalists debating it because it became politically significant for that politician's career that the child had done this, and yet we never reported it."

Mr Davies admitted he had paid people for information but said paying for stories did not necessarily yield the best results.

He said: "If you pay, and this is why I say it's practical, not ethical, a) there's a chance that you are giving these people a motivation to fabricate and earn their money, and b) at best you get a very limited amount of co-operation."

Mr Davies told the inquiry that although he had previously spoken up for self-regulation of newspapers by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), he had come to think that the industry was not capable of regulating itself.

"I think that the history of the PCC profoundly undermines the whole concept of self-regulation," he said.

"I don't think that this is an industry that is interested in, or capable of, self-regulation.

"I just think, I do not trust this industry to regulate itself. I say this as I love reporting, I want us to be free.

"You have a huge intellectual puzzle in front of you. How do you regulate a free press? But it obviously doesn't work, we are kidding ourselves, if we think it would. Because it hasn't."

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