U.K. police in 2002 failed to investigate whether News Corp.’s now defunct News of the World tabloid hacked the mobile phone of murdered school girl Milly Dowler while a search for her was under way.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission said former senior officers at Surrey Police were “afflicted by a form of collective amnesia” in relation to the phone-hacking allegations.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World in July 2011 in response to public anger over the scandal that erupted on the discovery that the tabloid accessed the 13- year-old’s voice-mail messages. Six journalists at the paper, including former editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, were charged in relation to the Dowler case last year.
“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,” Deborah Glass, IPCC Deputy Chair, said in a statement on its website. “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.”
While the IPCC, a police watchdog, criticized Surrey Police, it said it wouldn’t seek to punish two officers for misconduct.
Police in Surrey said in a statement that the Dowler probe was the most high-profile investigation in the country in 2002 and remains the largest undertaken by the law-enforcement agency that covers an area south of London.
“At the time Surrey Police became aware of phone hacking, the focus of the investigation team was on finding Milly Dowler and then bringing her killer to justice,” Surrey Police Chief Constable Lynne Owens said. “It was right that Milly was the primary focus of the investigation, but the matter of phone hacking should have been revisited at a later stage.”
Mary Kearney, a spokeswoman at News Corp. (NWSA)’s News International unit in London, said the company had no comment.
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