Alleged hacking has UK seething

Tabloid accused of raiding phone of girl found slain

By Gregory Katz
Associated Press / July 6, 2011

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LONDON - One of Britain’s voracious tabloids is facing claims that it hacked into the phone messages of a missing 13-year-old, possibly hampering a police inquiry into her disappearance.

Milly Dowler was found slain months later, and the report that her messages were tampered with has horrified Britons. Major advertisers - including Ford UK - have pulled their ads from the paper, the News of the World.

Britons are used to seeing their tabloid press harass royals, sports stars, and celebrities, constantly eavesdropping and paying even the most tangential sources for information about stars’ sex lives and drug problems.

But the latest hacking case was met with revulsion yesterday from everyone from Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain to movie stars to people who commented on Twitter.

It is “shocking that someone could do this, knowing that the police were trying to find this person and trying to find out what had happened,’’ Cameron said while on a trip to Afghanistan.

The case has refocused the spotlight on the already tainted News of The World, part of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire at News Corp. It also comes as Murdoch is trying to engineer the politically sensitive, multibillion-pound takeover of broadcaster BSkyB in Britain.

Dowler’s disappearance in 2002 while walking home from school in Surrey, south of London, transfixed Britain until her decomposing body was found six months later in the woods by mushroom pickers.

While police were pursuing all leads and the teen’s parents were making dramatic appeals for information, a private investigator working for the News of the World allegedly hacked into her cellphone, listened to her messages, and deleted some to make room for possible new ones.

Mark Lewis, a lawyer representing Dowler’s parents, said yesterday the suspected hacking may have hampered the police investigation, and he plans to sue the tabloid for its interference.

It was never determined how long the teen was alive after being abducted, but the tabloid’s actions reportedly came soon after her disappearance. Police realized some messages had been deleted, giving them and Dowler’s parents false hope that she was still alive.

“It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn that the News of the World had no humanity at such a terrible time,’’ Lewis said. “The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardized the police investigation and give them false hope is despicable.’’

He said executives at the newspaper should take responsibility and step down.

Serial killer Levi Bellfield was convicted of Dowler’s slaying two weeks ago. He was already serving a life sentence for two other murders. top stories on Twitter

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