The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • Sir, as Mr Barr says, I'd like to make a short statement, and especially in view of the way this matter was reported back in December of last year when the Metropolitan Police first mentioned that they were looking into how Sally Dowler had managed to get through to her daughter's voicemail, as we heard so vividly in evidence, and what may be said in the press now.

    As part of what I'm going to say this morning, there is a brief statement, sir, as you're aware, which the Dowler family has asked me to read out on their behalf. As you can imagine, they are anxious to reach closure on this issue for obvious reasons, but at the same time they accept that there are some things to which we still don't know and will never know the answer.

    Whilst Detective Chief Inspector MacDonald's statement concludes that the 'false hope moment' was likely to have been caused by an automatic deletion of messages 72 hours after they were recorded, there are a number of equally important questions here which remain unanswered. In particular, despite the fact that other subsequent messages were deleted, and it appears that they may not have been the result of any automatic deletion process but rather at some later stage and by some human intervention, there is no clear answer as to who was responsible.

    There are, I would suggest, only a very limited number of potential suspects, but there is still no answer.

    The reason why there is no answer is a lethal cocktail of three potential ingredients. The first is the Surrey Police's utter failure in 2002 to investigate what they discovered about the News of the World's activities at the time in hacking into Milly's phone. On that subject, whilst we are currently in the dark as to the reasons why Surrey Police failed to hold News of the World or their journalists to account, much of what we've heard in Module 2 concerning the dysfunctional relationship between the police and the media may help inform our understanding. It is fair to say, perhaps, as I understand it, that the Surrey Police are still investigating this failure some ten years after the event.

    The second ingredient is the decision by the Metropolitan Police in 2006, despite having stumbled upon an Aladdin's cave of material indicating wholesale unlawful activity in relation to hundreds of victims, instead to close up the entrance and to tell no one about what they'd seen, and certainly not the victims, and instead to charge a single journalist and a private detective with only a handful of counts.

    And finally, the last but by no means least noxious of these ingredients was the deliberate concealment by the News of the World's senior staff of the scale of this illegal practice, concealment achieved by the deletion of documents and the peddling of that now infamous lie: that this was just the work of one rogue reporter, a lie which was not, as we've heard, even challenged by the Metropolitan Police at the time, even though they must have known, to quote the words of Colin Myler, the editor of the News of the World at the time, that there were "bombs under the newsroom floorboards" in this, the best-selling newspaper in the country.

    It is worth adding that if only Mr Murdoch senior had done what he sat over there last week and said he wished he'd done from the start, ignoring the lawyers, and had ripped the place apart, then maybe things would have been very different, but he didn't, and here we are several years later, despite the police's best of intentions, unable through the passing of time and the loss of vital call data to uncover the precise extent of what dark deeds were done.

    While some questions stay and may always remain unanswered, there are some to which we do very clearly know the answer, and I mention three very briefly in this context.

    First and perhaps most importantly, the News of the World did hack into Milly Dowler's phone, searching for a scoop, and at a time when, as we know, she had already been murdered. That fact alone is horrifying enough.

    But secondly, as the Surrey Police's report has plainly documented, we also know that the newspaper interfered seriously with the police investigation at the time, trying to use the information they had illegally obtained to get an exclusive on Milly's movements.

    And thirdly, and so there is no confusion about this, this Inquiry, investigating as it has done the practice, culture and ethics of the press as a whole, would have happened regardless of the suggestion which arose at the start of the evidence that Sally Dowler's 'false hope moment' may have been the activity of someone at or working for the newspaper. As students of what was said at the time will know, and those who study transcripts of the Inquiry's proceedings can also confirm, the 'false hope moment' and the News of the World's potential responsibility for this was not part of the decision to set up this Inquiry in the first place.

    Whether News of the World were responsible for later deletions or not, it was the work of an investigative journalist prepared to get to the truth and the public outcry at what this ugly truth looked like which generated this Inquiry, and particularly the fact that a certain newspaper thought it right, without any compunction, to access the messages of a missing teenager, which showed the depths to which certain sections of the press were prepared to go. No one who sat through Module 1, and particularly the first few weeks of evidence given by my clients, could possibly argue that this Inquiry was not entirely justified.

    Finally, before we hear again the wild suggestions that because the newspaper was not responsible for the 'false hope moment' means that it should never have been shut down, one should remember the industrial scale upon which it has been revealed that such hacking took place and how it pervaded like a cancer through the newsroom and other floors of the News of the World as a demonstration of the sad but inevitable truth, namely that this newspaper was rotten to its core. That is why Mr Murdoch cut it out and you heard him last week say that he wished he had done so sooner.

    And now, sir, on behalf of the Dowler family, I'd like to read a very short statement, if I may.

    The family would like to thank Detective Chief Inspector John MacDonald and his team for their efforts to get to the bottom of this issue, even if there remain a number of unanswered questions.

    If Surrey Police had prosecuted this activity in 2002 then the position would have been very different and perhaps countless others might also have avoided having their private messages hacked into by the News of the World.

    Police neglect and deference meant that it took the relentless efforts of one journalist to uncover what the police knew had gone on, and whilst we would never have wished to have been thrust into the middle of this extraordinary scandal on top of what we have already had to deal with as a family, we continue to have faith that his efforts and the efforts of the Inquiry and Operation Weeting will have a lasting positive impact.

    Thank you. That's all I wish to say, sir.

  • Thank you very much.

    Well, that deals, I hope, in as much detail as we can possibly seek to request, with that aspect of the history, so we'll now go on.

  • Sir, my learned friend Mr Jay is going to take the next witness.

  • Sir, we need a couple of minutes to sort out one or two technical arrangements.

  • Right, we'll do that. We'll give the shorthand writer a break from what has been solid speaking. Thank you.

  • (A short break)

  • The next witness?

  • Mr Brendan Gilmour, please.

  • And he is to be the subject of a restriction?

  • For reasons which have been fully explained and in respect of which I am entirely satisfied, this witness will not be visually available, either within the annex or online. His evidence will, however, be carried live and be available orally. Thank you.