Daily Mail

The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail has defended what it called a "perfectly legitimate journalistic inquiry" after one of its journalists asked lawyer Mark Lewis if the Dowler family would be returning their compensation money in the light of new information about the deletion of their daughter's voicemails.

Speaking at the Leveson inquiry this morning, lawyer David Sherborne, who is representing individual core participants in the inquiry, said there had been a "storm of misreporting" after new police information emerged to say there is no evidence the News of the World was responsible for the deletion of messages which made Milly's parents believe she was still alive.

As a result the Guardian updated its July report on the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, to show that police had now found the timing of events meant the deletion of messages which gave the Dowler family "false hopes" were not due to the newspaper.

But it said it stood by its report that the murdered schoolgirl's voicemail was hacked by the newspaper.

At the Leveson inquiry today Sherborne said that on Tuesday lawyer Mark Lewis, who represented the Dowler family in their action against News International – with the company paying £2 million in compensation to the family and Rupert Murdoch making a further £1 million charity donation – received a call from a journalist "who identified himself as a reporter on the Daily Mail Hardcastle column and asked, and I quote, whether 'in view of these revelations will the Dowlers be giving their money back?''

But Associated Newspapers responded later in the day with a statement to say it "categorically refutes Mark Lewis’s allegation that it has attacked the Dowler family".

"A reporter from the Ephraim Hardcastle column contacted Mr Lewis in his capacity as the Dowler solicitor following evidence to the Leveson Inquiry that The News of the World had not deleted Milly Dowler’s voice mails.

"This was a perfectly legitimate journalistic inquiry. The Mail did not publish a story based on the phone call and made no attempt to contact the Dowlers directly".

Speaking after Sherborne at the inquiry this morning Lord Leveson said he also wanted to raise the issue of the new information.

"In one sense I recognise that precisely what happened may not ultimately drive the issues I have to consider within my terms of reference, however I do entirely understand the significance of the issue and I recognise it is likely to be in the public interest that this be resolved in an orderly manner rather than by cross articles", he said, clarifying that by this he meant "the interplay of articles between different journals and periodicals".

"What I don't want to do is use the time that I've got further to stoke the fire," he added.

Sherborne added that the Press Complaints Commission has contacted the Dowlers "to see if there is anything they could do to help" and that "this matter has been reported to them".

In the inquiry on Monday the counsel for the Metropolitan police Neil Garnham confirmed that "it's unlikely that anything Mr Mulcaire did was responsible for what Mrs Dowler heard when she called Milly's phone during that visit.

"It is not yet possible to provide a comprehensive explanation for the fact that on that occasion the automated mailbox full message was not heard. It is conceivable that other News International journalists deleted the voicemail, but the MPS have no evidence to support that proposition and current enquiries suggest that it is unlikely.

"The most likely explanation is that existing messages automatically dropped off from the mailbox after 72 hours. The relevant phone network provider has confirmed that this was a standard automatic function of that voicemail box system at the time."

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