LONDON – Staff at the News of the World tabloid told police that they had listened to the voice mails of a missing 13-year-old nine years before the revelation became public and shook Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, police said Tuesday.
In a statement read out at the phone hacking trial of former News of the World editors, Detective Sgt. Kevin McEntee of Surrey Police said managing editor Stuart Kuttner told him in 2002 that the newspaper had heard a message left for Milly Dowler, who had been abducted was later found murdered.
Kuttner urged police to follow up on information in the message as they searched for the girl.
Sarah McGregor, who was then head of communications for Surrey Police, testified that a News of the World reporter also called the force to say the newspaper had Dowler’s mobile phone number and the PIN to access her messages.
Police at the time did not investigate the newspaper. The hacking became public in 2011, sparking a scandal that led Murdoch to close the News of the World.
Kuttner, 73, is on trial alongside former News of the World editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks and five others. All have pleaded not guilty. Brooks was editor of the tabloid in 2002 when it ran stories based on Dowler’s hacked messages, but was on holiday at the time, leaving her deputy, Coulson, in charge.
Prosecutors say both must have known about the eavesdropping, but lawyers for Coulson and Brooks insist they were not aware of it.
The trial at London’s Central Criminal Court began last week and is expected to last six months.