Investigation Casts New Light on News of the World Phone Hacking

According to the Guardian, the News of the World may not have been responsible for deleting phone messages that led parents to believe murdered Milly Dowler was alive.

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Paul Hackett/Reuters

Over the weekend, the Murdoch phone hacking scandal took an interesting turn. News emerged that the damning revelation which brought Murdoch’s media empire to its knees may have been, well, wrong.

First, some quick context: the Guardian ignited the whole scandal in July; they reported that investigators for Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World led the parents of murdered English schoolgirl Milly Dowler to believe their daughter was still alive by hacking into and deleting her cell phone’s voicemails after she disappeared in 2002.

(MORE: Who’s Who in the U.K. Phone-Hacking Scandal)

Over the weekend, however, the Guardian quietly corrected that original story, reporting that:

“While News of the World reporters probably were responsible for deleting some of the missing girl’s messages, police have concluded that they were not responsible for the particular deletion which caused her family to have false hope that she was alive.”

Instead, it may have been the police who deleted those particular messages by listening to them as part of their investigation into her disappearance.

The Guardian’s executive investigations editor David Leigh defended the paper’s reporting, Tweeting that its original story had been “completely correct” according to police, and that the Guardian had been the first to report “when Dowler police changed their minds.

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So, a minor technicality, no? Depends on your point of view. Some former News of the World journalists, who are still licking their wounds after the paper’s closure three days after the Guardian broke its story, have come out strongly against the paper.

The News of the World’s former TV editor, Tom Latchem, lashed out at Leigh on Twitter, accusing the paper of false reporting that “resulted in 200 people losing their jobs.”

Independent columnist Stephen Glover agreed, writing on Monday that if the Guardian had not published its original allegation, the News of the World “might not have been closed…and the Leveson Inquiry might not have been set up.”

But would that have been a good thing? And does the retraction exonerate the News of the World? Many, including the Guardian’s Leigh, think not. “It’s great news that NOTW ‘only’ definitely hacked 803 people including Milly #Dowler,” he tweeted sarcastically on Monday. “I’m asking Murdoch to re-open it right away.”