In what is certain to be one of the more disturbing sessions of the phone hacking trial, the jury heard on Thursday about journalists at the News of the World intercepting the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
The hacking of the 13-year-old’s phone gave her family the “agony of hope”, said the prosecution, suggesting to her distraught parents that their daughter was still alive.
The Old Bailey heard that Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was responsible for the hacking of the phone, with prosecutor Andrew Edis QC telling the jury that Former editor Rebekah Brooks, her then deputy Andy Coulson and former managing editor Stuart Kuttner were "criminally involved" in the conspiracy.
Dowler’s body was discovered in November 2002, having disappeared on 21 March that year. Serial killer Levi Bellfield was found guilty of Dowler's murder in 2011.
"It is obvious her family through that time would have been in an agony of hope that they might find her and desperately worried," said Edis.
The revelations that the newspaper had hacked the phone, which broke in 2011, caused public outcry, leading to the eventual closing of the newspaper by proprietor Rupert Murdoch.
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Edis said Kuttner even went to Surrey Police, who were investigating Milly's disappearance, to tell them the newspaper had a voicemail tape, which could assist with the investigation.
"It is good that they gave that information to the police," he said. "What is less good is that they gave the information to the police on Saturday, when they had had it for several days." He told the jury it was possible that the force "could and should have investigated" that information at the time, but officers would have been focused on finding the missing girl.
And he claimed Brooks took a particularly interest in the Dowler story because of her previous involvement with a similar case, the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne.
Earlier on Thursday, it was revealed that Brooks and Coulson had a secret affair which lasted at least six years.
Brooks, 45, of Churchill, Oxfordshire; Coulson, also 45, from Charing in Kent; and the tabloid's ex-managing editor Kuttner, 73, from Woodford Green, Essex, all deny conspiring with others to hack phones between October 3 2000 and August 9 2006. Mulcaire has already admitted phone hacking.