8 September 2016, 11:56
Operation Baronet was set up in July 2011 to look at the circumstances surrounding the hacking of Milly’s mobile phone by, or on behalf of, the News of the World in 2002.
The primary focus of the investigation has been to establish who had knowledge within Surrey Police and what action was taken as a result.
The report is being published today to be clear and open about what the investigation has found.
Surrey Police accepted from the early stages of this investigation that the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemails should have been investigated and the Force has apologised to the Dowler family for the distress this has caused them.
When it became apparent that messages on Milly’s phone had been intercepted in April 2002, the primary focus of the investigation team was rightly on finding Milly and then bringing her killer to justice.
Her murder was the largest and most high-profile investigation in the country at the time and remains the largest enquiry ever undertaken by the Force who were dealing with thousands of calls from members of the public and the media.
However, senior officers would or should have been aware of the News of the World’s illegal actions and the matter of phone hacking should have been revisited and investigated at a later stage. The failure to do so was unacceptable and remains a matter of deep regret for the Force.
Operation Baronet has established that Surrey Police was contacted by News of the World staff on April 13, 2002. They advised they were working on a potential story relating to Milly’s whereabouts based on information gleaned from a message left on her voicemail. There is evidence that this was raised with investigating officers at the time however no evidence has been found of a policy decision recorded in relation to it.
There have been a number of challenges faced when investigating matters dating back more than ten years, including the inability of individuals to recall events from this time. Every effort has been made to locate all relevant materials from a murder investigation which spanned a decade and around 60,000 documents have been reviewed.
As part of Operation Baronet, in June 2012 Surrey Police and the then Surrey Police Authority voluntarily referred two senior officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC carried out an independent investigation which concluded there was no case to answer for misconduct in either case.
The Force has made all evidence available and co-operated fully with the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Weeting investigation, the IPCC and Lord Leveson’s Inquiry.
The Operation Baronet report notes that although it is possible a decision was made not to pursue the newspaper because of the potential consequences, it is more likely the matter was simply not seen for what it was.
In 2002, ‘phone hacking’ was not a term used in the wider public or media and there was no indication at the time of the endemic use of this practice by the News of the World.
The investigation has found no evidence of any conspiracy or collusive relationship between officers and the News of the World or any other media.
Operation Baronet has highlighted a number of key issues for the Force from 2002 including the adequate keeping of records, minutes of meetings and policy files as well as appropriate training for Senior Investigating Officers.
Policing has evolved in the 14 years since Milly went missing and the Force does now have processes in place to ensure such issues have been addressed.
The report has been shared with the Dowler family.