Another egregious new allegation of phone hacking perpetrated by Rupert Murdoch's U.K. tabloid News of the World has been unearthed by U.K.'s The Guardian. This time the newspaper has found evidence that "News of the World illegally targeted a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, and her family in March 2002, interfering with police inquiries into her disappearance." In the first few days after Dowler was reported missing, journalists at the Murdoch paper hacked her phone:
Scotland Yard is now investigating evidence that the paper hacked directly into the voicemail of the missing girl's own phone. As her friends and parents called and left messages imploring Milly to get in touch with them, the News of the World was listening and recording their every private word.
But the journalists at the News of the World then encountered a problem. Milly's voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive.
The newspaper goes on to explain that "the deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence." At the time, the Dowler family unknowingly granted News of the World an exclusive interview sharing their newfound hope that their daughter was alive. In response to the recent allegations, the family has now issued this statement via The Guardian:
"It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time. The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardised the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable."