* No evidence News International deleted girl's phone
* Outcry over parents' false hopes ingnited phone hacking
* Guardian journalist defends original story
By Tim Castle
LONDON, Dec 12 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 behaviour 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).
He said that Glenn Mulcaire, a detective working for the
News of the World who was jailed for phone hacking in 2007, had
not been assigned by the paper to the Dowler case until after
the messages were deleted in March 2002.
"It is conceivable that other News International journalists
deleted the voicemails. But the MPS has no evidence to support
that proposition, and current inquiries suggest it is unlikely,"
David Sherborne, a lawyer representing the Dowlers and other
victims of press intrusion, said the police statement "does not
mean that no one else at News International was responsible by
another means of accessing those voicemails in that time".
He said another News International journalist, whom he
declined to name, had also had the girl's phone number and
Nick Davies, the journalist who first revealed the Dowler
phone hacking in the Guardian newspaper last July, told Sky News
the key point of the story remained unchanged -- that the News
of the World had intercepted a murdered girl's phone.
"I agree that the deletion was an important element, it did
have an emotional impact," he said.
"But it was not the whole story ... it is delusional to try
to pretend that the new evidence on the one point of this story
would have changed the outcome."
Separately, former culture minister Tessa Jowell became the
latest individual to receive a settlement from News
International over the hacking of her phone.
Jowell accepted 200,000 pounds in damages, her lawyers said.
Earlier at the inquiry, the former chief reporter on the
News of the World defended a story alleging that soccer star
David Beckham had had an affair.
Neville Thurlbeck said there had been a public interest in
exposing the alleged infidelity because Beckham and his wife
Victoria had projected a fairy-tale marriage to the public in
order to sell products.
Beckham at the time denied the allegation.