U.K. Police Detectives Probed Over Milly Dowler Phone Hacks

Britain’s police regulator is investigating two senior detectives over what they knew about News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid hacking into the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is probing the deputy chief constable of Surrey Police over his alleged knowledge of the hacking, the watchdog said in a statement on its website today. It’s also investigating a detective superintendent over what she told the force during a 2006 internal probe into its handling of the Dowler case.

Revelations a year ago that News of the World journalists accessed Dowler’s messages led to a public outcry, prompting News Corp. to close the Sunday tabloid, then Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper. The New York-based company said today it will split its entertainment business from its publishing unit, including the subsidiary that published the now-defunct tabloid.

“The Dowler family welcomes the proper investigation of what happened at Surrey Police 10 years ago,” their lawyer, Mark Lewis, said in an e-mail. “They regret that the passage of time means that some individuals can now no longer be investigated.”

2002 Abduction

Surrey Police, the force southwest of London that probed the 2002 abduction and murder of 13-year-old Dowler, knew about the newspaper’s illegal voice-mail interceptions and failed to act, U.K. lawmakers probing the News Corp. scandal heard earlier this year. The extent of the illegal practice wasn’t revealed until 2010, during civil lawsuits by other victims.

A media-ethics inquiry started in response to the scandal later heard evidence the journalists may not have deleted the messages.

The investigations involving both Surrey officers were voluntarily referred to the IPCC, the police force said in an e-mailed statement. Neither Deputy Chief Constable Craig Denholm nor Temporary Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall have been suspended and they both remain on duty.

“Seeking independent scrutiny into these matters at this stage is the appropriate course of action,” the force said in the statement. “The IPCC will have our full cooperation and support throughout their investigations.”

Surrey Police said in a letter to Parliament’s Culture Committee in January, that the tabloid told police in 2002 that it accessed Dowler’s voice mail, saying it got her mobile-phone number and access code from other schoolchildren. The new probe is the result of a referral to the IPCC from Surrey Police, the watchdog said.

The Metropolitan Police Service in London arrested a former National Health Service worker today in a related probe into bribery of public officials by News Corp.’s Sun tabloid, the best-selling daily title in Britain. The 31-year-old man, who wasn’t identified, is the 36th person arrested in that case, while more than 50 have been detained in related probes of phone hacking, computer hacking and illegal payments by reporters.

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