A NEWS of the World executive told police the tabloid listened to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemail while she was still believed to be missing, a jury heard yesterday.
Former managing editor Stuart Kuttner called Surrey Police on the afternoon of 13 April, 2002 to inform them of a message left by a recruitment agency in Telford on the 13-year-old’s phone, the Old Bailey was told.
The former NotW executive, who was not in court yesterday due to ill health, told officers the newspaper gained access Milly’s mobile phone number and pin, and urged them to check the lead, the court heard.
Police told Kuttner the message was thought to have been left by a “professional hoaxer”, a claim which was repeated on page nine of the newspaper the following day, the jury heard.
Later that Saturday, chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck also called police and confirmed that the newspaper “had access” to Milly’s voicemail, had obtained the number from “sources” and that it intended to run the story the following day, the court was told.
The jury heard that former editor of the NotW, Rebekah Brooks, was in Dubai on 13 April but there was alleged contact between her and colleagues, including her then deputy, Andy Coulson.
In the newspaper’s first edition, the story quoted the voicemail message left by the recruitment service, which said: “We’re ringing because we’ve got some interviews starting, can you call me back? Thank you, bye bye.”
By the second edition the text of the message had been edited out, while the third edition focused on “outrage” at the possibility that it had been a hoax.
Surrey Police had earlier obtained an order which allowed them to access a voicemail message left on Milly’s phone on 13 April.
Prosecutor Mark Bryant Heron told the jury that someone could be heard saying: “Hello Milly, it’s just we want you home soon, bye,” followed by noise in the background.
Brooks, of Churchill, Oxfordshire; Coulson, 45, from Charing in Kent; and Kuttner, 73, from Woodford Green, Essex, all deny conspiring with others to hack phones between 3 October, 2000 and 9 August, 2006.
Thurlbeck has already admitted phone hacking.
Brooks also faces two allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice – one with her former personal assistant, Cheryl Carter, between 6 and 9 July, 2011; and a second with her husband, Charles Brooks; former News International head of security Mark Hanna, and others between 15 and 19 July, 2011.
Giving evidence, Surrey Police head of communications Sarah McGregor said the “professional hoaxer” had previously contacted Milly’s mother to wish her a happy birthday and been captured on CCTV in Telford.
After officers spoke to the agency, they found Milly was not registered there and concluded the message had been intended for another woman who was on its books.
She also explained that investigators found that the message left on Milly’s voicemail was addressed to “Nana”, not Amanda [Milly’s real name] or Milly.
Ms McGregor said that when this was put to NotW reporter Ricky Sutton, he replied: “This is not true, it’s inconceivable. There’s other messages on her phone.”
Mr Sutton also claimed that Milly had travelled north and registered with the agency for a job in a factory, adding: “We know this for a fact, we are absolutely, 100 per cent certain.”
Ms McGregor claimed she had been told by a colleague about Kuttner referring to the NotW having Milly’s mobile phone number and pin when he called Surrey Police on 13 April.
But Jonathan Caplan QC, defending Kuttner, suggested she was mixing up two different phone calls – one from his client to her colleague where there was no mention of a pin number, and one where Thurlbeck told her the NotW was in possession of the pin number.
The barrister later asked Ms McGregor: “When you were told on 13 April that Milly’s voicemail had been accessed by News of the World, that did not cause you to refer it to anybody, that maybe this should be investigated?”
Ms McGregor said: “I’m not a detective and I was not working as an investigating officer – it would be their decision.”
The trial continues.