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LONDON — It was the revelation that triggered the downfall of the News of the World as well as calamitous consequences for News Corporation and the Murdoch family.
But former News of the World investigator Glenn Mulcaire said for the first time Monday that he did not delete messages left on the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the action that falsely gave her parents hope that the teenager was still alive.
In a statement to the BBC, Mulcaire’s solicitor said he “did not delete messages and had no reason to do so.”
New documents due to be released by Surrey police force shortly are understood to support Mulcaire’s position.
Mulcaire did not deny the fact that he had hacked into Dowler’s voicemail, and gives no explanation in his statement as to how the messages were deleted. Lawyer Mark Lewis — himself a target of surveillance by the News of the World –- suggested to the BBC that the deletions may have been carried out by other reporters on the newspaper.
Another possibility put forward is that in 2002 some mobile phone operators may automatically have deleted old messages after a period of time, although there is no specific evidence to support this suggestion.
The news came on the day that Milly Dowler’s parents gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry about the impact media intrusion and phone-hacking had had on their lives.
Bob and Sally Dowler spoke movingly about the hope they had felt when they believed Milly had herself deleted messages on her phone, and therefore must still be alive.
Sally Dowler told the inquiry into press ethics and standards how excited she had become when she had been able to leave a message on her daughter’s phone, the implication of which was that Milly herself had deleted messages leaving room on her voicemail service.
“She’s picking up her voice mails, Bob, she’s alive, she’s alive,” Sally Dowler told the inquiry.
The assumption that Mulcaire had deleted the phone messages was central to a personal apology from Rupert Murdoch to the Dowler family in July, just days after the News of the World was shuttered.
It also formed the basis of the $3.3 million compensation settlement paid by News International to the Dowler family and a further $1.7 million given to a number of charities the family nominated on Milly’s behalf. The payment is the biggest compensation payment in British legal history.
The statement from Mulcaire’s solicitor read: “Glenn Mulcaire has previously expressed his sincere personal sympathy for the Dowler family. Because of the ongoing criminal investigation it is not possible for him to say much at this time.
“However, he fully supports the recent agreement by Surrey Police to disclose relevant documents concerning voicemail interception of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone,” the statement read.
“He is confident that they will shed light on the actions he took then and the basis of them. Further, he confirms, that he did not delete messages and had no reason to do so.”
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