The Guardian Under Pressure to Apologize for News of the World Phone-Hacking Accusation

3:51 PM PST 12/12/2011 by Mimi Turner
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
The final News of the World cover

The newspaper, which reported in July that messages on murdered teen Milly Dowler's phone had been deleted by News of the World, has now conceded that it is “no longer clear” what happened to the messages.

LONDON -- Pressure is mounting on The Guardian newspaper to apologize for accusing News of the World investigators of deleting messages on the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Former employees of the News of the World are seeking an apology from The Guardian, which admitted Monday that it was “no longer clear” how the messages had been deleted.

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Nick Davies, the writer of the original investigative story in July, said Monday that he had received new information from Scotland Yard to the effect that it was “no longer clear” who had deleted the messages, which gave rise to the false hope that 13-year-old Milly was still alive.

“The new evidence also confirmed almost everything I had reported in July of this year,” Davies said Monday night. “But one important element shifted; the police could no longer be sure exactly who had caused the particular deletions that led to that ‘false hope’ moment.”

Davies’ initial report, published in July, was received as universal fact, not least because News of the World investigator Glenn Mulcaire apologized for the result of his actions and appeared to accept responsibility for the deletions. News International did not contest the report, and Scotland Yard also confirmed the fact of the deletions to the Dowler family’s lawyer. The Guardian said it had a separate confirmation from Surrey police, the murder-investigation team.

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In July, Davies wrote a bombshell story in The Guardian, saying that the deletion of messages had given the teenager’s family false hope that she was alive, a story that had an immediate impact.

“The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result, relatives of Milly concluded that she might be alive,” Davies wrote July 4.

By July 7, the political firestorm and wave of public revulsion was so great that Rupert Murdoch felt he had no choice but to allow James Murdoch to announce that the 168-year-old paper would be closed as even longtime advertisers moved to shun the publication.

The new disclosures are a huge embarrassment for The Guardian, not least because many believe that News of the World’s 200-plus staff may have kept their jobs if the report had not been so concrete.

Rupert Murdoch later paid $3.2 million in damages to the Dowler family and publicly apologized for the “abhorrent” actions of his newspaper. The catastrophe also cost the jobs of two of his most favored executives, Dow Jones boss Les Hinton and News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.

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A group of former staff have already come out calling on The Guardian to apologize formally, which the paper has not yet done.

In fact, The Guardian has come out fighting, with Davies insisting that despite the clarification, the revelations about the News of the World have largely proved correct, including conclusive evidence that journalists on the paper had hacked not only Dowler’s phone but the phones of several hundred others.

Mark Lewis, the Dowler family’s lawyer, who himself was put under surveillance by News International, said it was “too early to say” that the paper had not been responsible for the deletions, suggesting that Mulcaire or others could have triggered the deletions simply by listening to the messages on the phone, which were automatically deleted 72 hours after they were listened to.

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