British tabloid News of the World repeatedly hacked into the voicemail account of a missing girl in 2002, interfering with an ongoing investigation and giving her family false hope that she was alive and accessing her voicemail, a lawyer for her family said Monday.
After 13-year-old Milly Dowler went missing and before her murdered body was discovered six months later, voicemail messages were deleted from her account — leading her family to think she was checking her voicemail.
At one point, the family of the missing girl even granted the News of the World an interview about the hope the deleted messages had given them.
Now detectives for the Metropolitan Police Service of London are believed to have found evidence that News of the World was behind the deleted messages, according to The Guardian.
The evidence suggests journalists intercepted messages from frantic family and friends trying to reach Dowler, and then they deleted some of the messages when the voicemail inbox was full in order to make room for new ones. Police fear that evidence may have been lost in the process.
Police discovered the evidence during a larger investigation of the News of the World‘s habit of hacking into the voicemail messages of celebrities and political figures, some instances of which it has admitted.
As the New York Times points out, the latest case is significant in part because at the time of the hacking theNews of the World‘s editor was Rebekah Brooks, who is now the chief executive of News International. Both British newspapers are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and Brooks denies that she has ever witnessed phone hacking at any Murdoch-owned papers.
“It is almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff could behave in this way,” Brooks wrote in an email to The Guardian.