Nick Davies on BBC Newsnight

Nick Davies told Newsnight that new police evidence came as a surprise, stating 'one element of that story is now in doubt'.

Credit: Image taken from BBC Newsnight

Guardian journalist Nick Davies has insisted that "everybody who was involved" in his report on the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone "accepted it was true" at the time.

Davies appeared on BBC Newsnight last night where he faced questions on his decision to report as fact in July that "the messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly's disappearance in order to free up space for more messages" and that "as a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive".

However according to a Guardian report this week, new police information has now emerged to show that "the News of the World was not responsible for the deletion of voicemails from Milly Dowler's mobile phone that caused her parents to have false hopes that she was alive", explained in a footnote added to its original article.

Facing questions from Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, Davies said: "The problem is whether or not they [the News of the World] were responsible for deleting particular messages that caused [Milly Dowler's] family to have false hope ... that is what is in doubt.

"Everybody who was involved in that story accepted it was true. They continued to accept it until four months later when new evidence, that was not available, to everybody's surprise showed that one element of that story is now in doubt. It is in doubt."

But he insisted that "nobody disputed a word of that story".

At the Leveson inquiry on Monday (12 December) the counsel for the Metropolitan police Neil Garnham confirmed that "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."

Newsnight has also announced the results of a poll which found 85 per cent of those asked "think the phone-hacking scandal shows press self-regulation has failed and much tighter controls are needed".

When asked about the impact of the Leveson inquiry on future standards, the BBC reports 45 per cent were not confident things would improve.

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