Should The Guardian say sorry?

By Rebecca Davis 15 December 2011

On the 4 July, The Guardian led with the explosive news that journalists or investigators working for the News of the World had deleted voicemails from the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, giving her parents false hope that she was alive. Last week it turned out this wasn’t quite true. By REBECCA DAVIS.

The Guardian did not fudge its accusation against the NOTW when the paper led with it in July. What it said was: “The messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result, relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might be alive.”

Now a police inquiry has established that what happened was more mundane. In essence, the cellphone provider automatically deleted voicemails 72 hours after they were listened to. So yes, the act of listening to Dowler’s voicemails caused them to be deleted, but it is not the case that they were deliberately erased.

The “erratum” run by The Guardian following last week’s revelation amounts to the following: at the top of its story of 4 July, it added this correction: “Evidence secured by the police following the publication of this article has established that the News of the World was not responsible for the deletion of voicemails which caused Milly Dowler’s parents to have false hope that she was alive”.

Is that sufficient? The Independent thinks not, pointing out that The Guardian’s scoop about the voicemails led directly to the closure of News of the World within three days. “The paper’s central and most damaging allegation against the News of the World turns out not to have been correct,” media analyst Stephen Glover wrote. “Some people might think The Guardian owes us a more comprehensive apology.” DM

Read more:

  • Stephen Glover: A rather modest retraction, in the Independent.

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