The Guardian has today run in its corrections and clarifications column an item saying that its story in July (top), which claimed News of the World journalists had deleted voicemails on Milly Dowler's phone giving her parents false hope that she was alive, was "unlikely to have been correct".
It says: "An article about the investigation into the abduction and death of Milly Dowler (News of the World hacked Milly Dowler's phone during police hunt, 5 July, page 1) stated that voicemail "messages were deleted by [NoW] journalists in the first few days after Milly's disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive."
"Since this story was published new evidence – as reported in the Guardian of 10 December – has led the Metropolitan police to believe that this was unlikely to have been correct and that while the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler's phone the newspaper is unlikely to have been responsible for the deletion of a set of voicemails from the phone that caused her parents to have false hopes that she was alive, according to a Metropolitan police statement made to the Leveson inquiry on 12 December."
The paper had already added an editor's note to the story at the weekend following the new evidence from police, but some ex-News of the World staffers complained on Twiter that nothing had appeared in the corrections' column.
Meanwhile in a letter to the Independent, Nick Davies, who has led the Guardian's exposure of phone hacking, hits back at yesterday's media column by Stephen Glover.
Davies writes: "Stephen Glover writes that our July story about the hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail was not true (12 December). He is wrong about that.
"We reported that the News of the World had hired a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, to hack into the voicemail of the missing girl; he had succeeded; reporters had listened to her messages; Surrey police had known this at the time and taken no action; some messages were deleted; as a result the Dowlers were given false hope that Milly was still alive.
"New evidence has now confirmed that the police were right to believe all of that, and we were right to report it. But one element has shifted. The police can no longer be sure exactly who caused the particular deletions which led to that "false hope" moment. In July, all parties agreed that it was the News of the World. We had that confirmed directly or indirectly from Scotland Yard, Surrey police, the Dowler family, and even by Mulcaire who apologised for what he had done.
"The police now say that they believe Mulcaire had not been tasked when those deletions occurred. He was surprised but delighted to be told that. Police have looked at various alternative theories. There is evidence that a senior News of the World journalist at the time claimed to have been hacking the girl's voicemail without Mulcaire's help. But as things stand, they cannot be sure how it happened.
"The police have updated the record. We have updated our story. It is simply misleading to take this development and to pretend that that means our story was not true. The hacking of that abducted schoolgirl's phone was, as the Prime Minister said, "disgusting", and there are serious questions about how the police failure to deal with it at the time. As a paper, The Independent has done its bit to expose the hacking saga. It is a shame that Stephen Glover still wants to play the denial game."
Glover suggested that had the Guardian not published its allegations in July against the News of the World: "The Sunday red-top might not have been closed by a panic-stricken Rupert Murdoch, and the Leveson Inquiry might not have been set up by an equally panic-striken David Cameron."
He also claimed: "Long experience has taught me that the Guardian does not like admitting it has got things wrong, so I am not at all surprised by the way it has handled a correction to what may well be the most explosive and influential story it has ever published."
- The Sun makes a direct link between the Guardian story in July and the closure of its sister Sunday paper. It reports today: "Stories carried by the Guardian in July claimed that News of the World journalists were responsible for deleting messages, giving Milly's parents Bob and Sally false hope she was still alive. The allegation led to a national outcry, a political crisis for David Cameron and the closure of the Sunday tabloid after 168 years with the loss of over 200 jobs."