The News of the World ordered the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone on the same day it sympathised with her distraught parents’ anguish, the phone hacking trial heard today. Milly went missing near her home in Walton on Thames, Surrey, in March 2002, sparking a large public police investigation and a parallel, covert one at the News of the World, the Old Bailey was told.
On 10 April 2002, said prosecutor Andrew Edis QC, a ‘Neville” at the paper tasked the private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, to intercept the 13-year-old’s mobile phone messages. On the same day, he told the court, the News of the World wrote to Surrey Police requesting an exclusive interview with the Dowlers – before mentioning that the paper was considering offering a reward for information about her whereabouts.
Hayley Barlow, the executive who wrote the letter, told the family an interview would be conducted with the “utmost sympathy” and offered them the News of the World’s full support.
However on that very same day, Mr Edis told the trial, Mr Mulcaire’s records showed that he was commissioned by a News of the World journalist called “Neville”. At the time the News of the World’s news editor was Neville Thurlbeck, who the court heard earlier this week has pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack phones.
Mr Edis said: “This is the record of the instruction from Neville to Mr Mulcaire to hack. The phone number is there and he has obviously got those phone records. And hacking there undoubtedly was. So that was the 10th – which was the day they were trying to get an interview with the parents – Neville is instructing Mulcaire to do some phone hacking.”
Mr Edis told the jury the hacking came in between Milly’s disappearance and the discovery of her body in September 2002.
He said: “Her family at that time would have been in an agony of hope trying to find her and were very worried. The prosecution say the News of the World through Mr Mulcaire hacked her phone during that time. They say that Mr Mulcaire did that and that Mrs Brooks, Mr Coulson and Mr Kuttner… were criminally involved in the conspiracy that followed.”
He made no suggestion that the executive who wrote appeal to the Dowlers, Hayley Barlow, was aware of the phone hacking.
However, he said Rebekah Brooks would have taken a particularly close interest in the case because of her campaign for tougher laws against paedophiles.
She was on holiday in Dubai at the time of the hacking but stayed in contact with the editor and newsdesk by phone, the court heart.
She would also have been kept particularly well-informed about the situation because she was engaged in a six-year affair with her deputy editor, Andy Coulson, who was running the paper at the time of the Milly Dowler story.
Police had discovered evidence of the affair in a letter from Brooks to Coulson in 2004.
Mr Edis said the prosecution was not making a moral judgement about the affair but said it indicated the closeness and trust between the pair, which assisted the suggestion that they had conspired with each other to commit crimes.