Police unsure of tabloid role in key UK hacking case

Mon Dec 12, 2011 6:13pm EST
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By Tim Castle

LONDON (Reuters) - British police said on Monday there was no evidence that journalists from Rupert Murdoch's News of the World tabloid had deleted a murdered schoolgirl's mobile phone messages, a claim that led to public revulsion and the closure of the paper.

It was a report last July that the paper's journalists had deleted voicemails on the phone of Milly Dowler in 2002, giving her parents false hope she was still alive, that lit a fire under a simmering scandal over phone hacking.

In the ensuing outcry, Murdoch shut the 165-year-old News of the World, dropped a $12 billion bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB, and personally donated 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) to charities nominated by the Dowler family.

News International, the British arm of his News Corp media group, paid the family a further 2 million pounds as Murdoch called the paper's behavior towards them "abhorrent."

Britain's media industry, politicians and police have been rocked by revelations that the paper's journalists and private investigators illegally intercepted voicemail on a large scale.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up an inquiry into newspaper practices, headed by senior judge Brian Leveson.

On Monday the inquiry was told that, although it was clear that the News of the World had hacked Milly Dowler's phone, it was unlikely it was responsible for deleting her messages.

The most likely explanation was that the voicemails had been automatically removed after a 72-hour limit, said Neil Garnham, a lawyer for London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).   Continued...