Surrey Police Milly Dowler

Surrey Police have strongly denied that the News of the World could have obtained Dowler's voicemail's from the force

Credit: Johnny Green/PA

Surrey Police were aware in 2002 that the News of the World had accessed the voicemail of Milly Dowler, and were told by a reporter that her mobile number and voicemail PIN had been obtained "from school children".

In a letter published by the culture, media and sport select committee today, the Surrey force reveals that a News of the World journalist read out a transcript of a voicemail message from Dowler's phone to a police press officer in April 2002.

A detailed timeline of communications between the police and the News of the World reporter also shows that the reporter emailed Surrey Police advising that he had tapes of "other messages" left on Dowler's phone, and "offered a copy of a tape recordings of messages and other assistance".

Surrey Police dismissed the messages as likely to be the work of a hoaxer which it believed was impersonating Dowler, and did not pursue the issue of how the News of the World obtained the messages.

The force's letter does not reveal anything new on the controversial issue of what led to the deletion of some of Dowler's messages. The Guardian claimed in July last year that the News of the World was responsibile for deletions that gave "false hope" to her parents, but doubt was recently cast over the claim, causing the Guardian to retract its claim and print a correction.

The letter reads: "When and the extent to which Milly's mobile phone voicemail was unlawfully accessed (and whether any messages were deleted) are matters which form part of the Metropolitan Police Service's ongoing investigation."

The letter does state that a claim by former News of the World legal manager Tom Crone that the tabloid may have obtained access to Dowler's voicemail through Surrey Police – made during his appearance at the Leveson inquiry – was incorrect.

"The information about the contents of Milly Dowler's voicemail and the message from the recruitment agency left on 27 March 2002 was not provided to the NoW by Surrey Police. The NoW obtained that information by accessing Milly Dowler's voicemail … Surrey Police was not aware of the message from the recruitment agency until the NoW revealed their knowledge of its contents on 13 April 2002."

The focus of Surrey Police's communications with the News of the World reporter at the time was one specific message, which was left for Dowler by a recruitment agency asking the teenager about attending an interview.

The information in the call was included in a story in the News of the World in April 2002, which stated that Surrey Police were "evaluating the claim" that Dowler had contacted the agency while she was missing, but said there was a "possibility that a hoaxer may be involved in generating this story".

The force then asked West Mercia Police to investigate the recruitment agency lead, and the report stated that a member of staff at the agency told the West Mercia force that she had never spoken to a reporter at the News of the World.

Surrey Police later downloaded the same message from Dowler's phone after obtaining a second production order to access her voicemails.

The police later concluded that the recruitment agency's call to Dowler had been the result of "pure-coincidence" after a mobile number for a women called "Nana" was accidentally recorded as the missing teenager's.

The News of the World ran several stories in April 2002 that referred to the recruitment agency voicemail, with some quoting directly from the message.

The letter published today reveals that the tabloid was forced to alter a story published in the first edition of its 14 April edition after it published a line from Surrey Police which had not been approved by the force's press officer.

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