Murdered schoolgirl was among cellphone "hacking" victims

British tabloid News of the World illegally accessed the messages left on the cellphone mailbox of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, then deleted them to allow more to arrive. According to The Guardian, its staff interfered with the police investigation, destroyed evidence, and gave her family the false hope of seeing their desperate pleas being accessed and read.
File-Milly_Dowler.jpegThe Dowler family then granted an exclusive interview to the News of the World in which they talked about their hope, quite unaware that it had been falsely kindled by the newspaper's own intervention. Sally Dowler told the paper: "If Milly walked through the door, I don't think we'd be able to speak. We'd just weep tears of joy and give her a great big hug." The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence. According to one senior source familiar with the Surrey police investigation: "It can happen with abduction murders that the perpetrator will leave messages, asking the missing person to get in touch, as part of their efforts at concealment. We need those messages as evidence. Anybody who destroys that evidence is seriously interfering with the course of a police investigation."
The newspaper, described as "heinous" and "despicable" by the family, is at the center of a cellphone "hacking" scandal in the U.K., in which the remote mailboxes of politicians, celebrities and everyday people were tapped by reporters. One of the curiosities of the scandal was the Metropolitan Police's refusal to launch a substantial investigation until embarrassed by reports in The Guardian and The New York Times, which found insiders willing to admit being influenced by "fear" of reprisals from Rupert Murdoch, owner of the News of the World. One of serial killer Levi Bellfield's victims, Dowler disappeared at the age of 13 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002. Missing Milly Dowler's voicemail was hacked by News of the World [The Guardian. Photo: Wikimedia]


  1. Man, British tabloids are some kind of evil. It’s sort of mind-blowing how much illegal, and just downright horrible, shit they get up to.

    1. News Corp has holdings all over the world. This is a new low even for Murdoch’s company though.

  2. Aldi’s (Trader Joe’s) is a big advertiser on News of the World. Tell them you are not buying from them until they withdraw their ads.

  3. What’s more, the E-i-C of News of the World at the time is now the head of News UK, and is overseeing their acquisition of BSkyB, which would make Murdoch the major source of print and TV news in the UK

  4. Rob, I heard this on the BBC World Service this morning, but I was under the impression (maybe wrong) that the allegations were still under investigation. Not that I’d put it past a tabloid – in fat I’d be surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be true – but is this alleged or confirmed yet?

  5. Between phone-hacking, subverting democracy, ignoring rules about media ownership, relentless cross-product self-promotions, and huge tax evasion, Murdoch’s empire in the UK is little more than a criminal organization like the mafia, with all its hateful yelling, threatening whispers and crude jeering.

    Democracy in the UK, the US and Australia would be improved quite signicantly if governments weren’t such subserviant brown-nosers when it comes to dealing with Murdoch and his media. How about regulating them properly, stop letting then lobby governments so much, and then perhaps the common people would have a fairer say in how their own countries are run, rather than being shouted-down by Murdoch’s crude mouthpieces?

  6. This paper is one of the bottom feeders of the UK tabloid press, but even so this is astounding. I only took vague notice of the wiretapping/hacking before as they’re largely related to celebrities and politicians – immoral and illegal, of course, but par for the course for them.

    But, this is a new low. Not only have they been interfering in police investigations and actively destroying evidence, they used the resulting false hope of the family to run an “exclusive” interview and directly profit!

    I often think this type of comment is hyperbole, but it’s justified here – somebody needs to go to jail for this. Now. No excuses, there’s surely laws already in place that can put them away (destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice at the very least?).

    I don’t mean whatever junior staffer can be blamed, I mean the people of the highest authority from the editor upwards who allowed this to happen, anyone directly involved with carrying out the action and anyone on the outside in the police or government who conspired to help them (as has been alleged in some forums).

    Freedom of the press is one thing, but they don’t have the freedom to behave this atrociously. On the same day the tabloids are in court for their coverage of another murder case as well…

  7. Don’t forget Murdoch and his clan owns significant shares in the present (and previous) British Government.

    The Metropolitan Police are becoming more and more politicised – in the crudest partisan sense, leaving aside their systematic role. Boy am I glad I don’t live there anymore.

  8. This is undoubtedly a new low even for that organisation. Marina Hyde, who used to work at The Sun before going up-market (there is NO down-market from there) misquotes Oscar Wilde to describe journalists thusly: “We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking up Britney’s skirt.”

    Murdoch & his cronies should be drowned in a vat of something.

  9. Gulliver, So far it’s only an allegation, but every other significant allegation of phone hacking made against them has been either “admitted to” by them or proven in court.

    Can’t see this one as much of a stretch for them…


  10. It seems to be high time that publications like the NoW were threatened with more than just fines. These stories are approved by lawyers who offset the cost of legal action against the increase in circulation and ad revenue. It’s a win/win for these folks.

    Now, if there were the threat that they could be stopped from publishing, maybe that would change the game.

    Murdoch doesn’t give a rats *ss about the individual reporters, but if his publication was threatened, perhaps he’d take notice.
    I can dream…..

    Oh, while we’re talking about vile, hypocritical liars/journalist, I take this opportunity to apologise to the US for Piers Morgan.

    1. How Fucking Inhuman.

      Murdoch’s corporations have corporate personhood…. so maybe the actions are more inhumane than inhuman, I dunno.

      1. corporations don’t have fingers. People do. I think we should send them pictures of our fingers. Finger, actually.

    1. Anything.
      The hacking was done by a private investigator so that the reporter can quote “a source” as revealing whatever they trawled up. The “source” does not have to be identified unless the editor thought that there was something illegal going on, and then all the editor has to do is preserve plausible deniability.
      In this case the transgression was so egregious that maybe we will finally see some controls imposed on these low-lifes.

  11. So far the focus seems to be on NoW profit motive. But I get this hunch that there is another thing going as well. Some perverted sense of sexual gratification/voyeurism driving the private investigators and some of the NoW staff.

    1. Some perverted sense of sexual gratification/voyeurism driving the private investigators and some of the NoW staff.

      I’m always a little mystified at how seldom this is brought up whenever some dastardly or high-profile hackery occurs. (Or for that matter, run-of-the-mill, nobody-cares hackery.) You don’t have to be a l33t haxx0r to know that you can derive a sexual and/or voyeuristic thrill from having this kind of intimate, forbidden access to the parts of someone’s life that they keep hidden. If you’ve ever stumbled on someone’s Facebook account while they were still logged in, or guessed a password for someone’s e-mail, or browsed the directories of a laptop someone loaned you, you know what I’m talking about. Imagine how much more potent it is for someone who really has to work at surmounting real barriers to get at what they want to see.

      Now, of course, by even mentioning it, I realize I’m admitting to darkest perversions that the rest of the Internet commentariat would never even countenance. Okay. ;)

      But seriously. Even if your lily-white soul is unstained by the allure of that kind of naughtiness, trust me when I say that the LulzSecretariat, the Anonymice, and whatever other hackers you read about in the paper are doing it for more than the lulz, or the money, or the cause, or whatever. A peeping Tom at our window doesn’t see us nearly as exposed as the one looking through our Windowsâ„¢.

  12. Dunno why, but this reminded me of the infamous Jack the Ripper letter (turns out to be the Dear Boss one) that was probably a hoax by a journalist (others turned up that were).

    Really, how long can someone who’d profit from that keep looking in the mirror before one day smashing it and gobbling down the shards?

  13. It could be argued that the News of the World serves an important social function by reminding us just how vile and despicable human beings (and I use the words ‘human beings’ advisedly, m’lud) can be.


  15. Urgh. Even for a Murdoch-run tabloid, that’s vile. This makes me think of something the late Donald E. Westlake wrote as a kind of foreword to his novel Trust Me On This, which dealt with just this sort of bottom-of-the-food-chain newspaper: that the truth about tabloids was even worse than what he put in the novel. And *that* was already quite something.

  16. Aldi’s (Trader Joe’s) is a big advertiser on News of the World. Tell them you are not buying from them until they withdraw their ads.

    Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi Nord, which is legally and financially distinct from Aldi Süd, which owns and operates the British Aldi markets, although the two companies have a close relationship with each other. In certain parts of the US there are Aldi-branded markets, and those are run by the same Aldi that runs the British Aldi markets.

    As for the News of the World, fines are not good enough for them; I want to see jail time. Utterly vile.

  17. The advertising boycott is one of the only things the company will listen to, and it’s started to gather pace. The latest storyon this (at the time of writing, says that Ford have already withdrawn advertising, with other major chains set to follow.

  18. Well since corporations are people, let’s throw him/her/it in jail straight away for this crime.

    1. Well since corporations are people, let’s throw him/her/it in jail straight away for this crime.

      I suppose we could just set up moats (filled with alligators that are hybrid clones from Gore Vidal’s DNA) around all corporations. When these “people” break the law we can just pull up the drawbridge until the penalty time is over.

      I think we’d see some healthy change in the behavior of these “people” after that.

  19. Nothing but nothing will be done, apart from (possibly) press standards being updated without significant sanctions being imposed.

    I repeat, News Corp. owns significant equity in Her Majesty’s Government.

    1. I do hope you’re wrong, and my sense is that you are. This has to be a tipping point in the relationship between the Murdoch project and the British state. If it turns out that it isn’t we will just have to accept that it’s Rupe’s world now, we just get to live in it (on his terms).

      If hacking into the voicemail of a missing child and deleting messages, thus destroying evidence that might have been crucial and giving false hope to her family (because they assumed Milly was doing the deleting) if that doesn’t get you drummed out of British public life then what does? And what does the idea of “public life” mean any more in Britain?

      I got the details fairly late, on the way home last night via the Guardian’s Twitter feed. I got to the end of the piece, looked out of the window, shook my head and read it again; I literally could not process what I had read. Encountering amorality of this profundity makes me feel that I am staring into the abyss, that there is nothing, literally nothing, these people won’t do; terrifying. Seriously, are these fucking pieces of shit in the end even really human?

      Enough words, time for people to get hurt is how I feel right now. Sorry to get all torches and pitchforks but speaking as someone who has hardly ever in his life thrown a punch in anger and not at all in over 30 years, I am so fucking angry about this that I would happily drag anyone and everyone involved out of their offices by their hair and kick their fucking faces in.

      If any Twitter users would like to help keep up the pressure on notw advertisers, this page is very useful:

  20. @ Paul T,
    “I only took vague notice of the wiretapping/hacking before as they’re largely related to celebrities and politicians – immoral and illegal, of course, but par for the course for them.”
    So… this is ok if someone is famous? Huh?

    More broadly this is disturbing because it provides a justification for stopping journalists keeping their sources secret.
    Journalists seem to be a lot like financial types – all of them insist self-regulation is sufficient while the other half provide good reasons why their industry should not be self-regulated.

    1. No, it’s certainly not OK if someone’s famous but it’s easier to brush off in a sense (people who choose to live in the public eye don’t have the same privacy expectations as an ordinary family). Sad, but true.

      But, what I really meant was that in those cases, they were largely just listening to messages AFAIK. Here, they’re interfering with police investigations and directly manipulating the story. Either is still despicable, but one is far more evil and illegal than the other.

  21. Don’t want to be a pedant on this, as it’s totally possible, nay likely, that these accusations are true, but at the moment they are accusations, not facts.

    I don’t think BoingBoing should be stating these things as fact until the evidence is in.

  22. ….From the BBC…

    Halifax and Vauxhall have added their names to list of advertisers boycotting the News of the World. They join Ford, Lloyds and Virgin Holidays

  23. News of the World is Fox News, U.K.. Since Murcoch seems intent on conquering the world, shouldn’t James Bond or Captain America be dispatched.

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