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16 December 2011 - 9:41am | posted by | 0 comments

An editor's view: What if the Guardian had to pay for that error in the case of Milly Dowler?

An editor's view: What if the Guardian had to pay for that error in the case of Milly Dowler?An editor's view: What if the Guardian had to pay for that error in

A few months ago I penned a short piece for the Drum, as a former Sunday paper editor , criticising the injustice of closing down the News of the World.

I put myself in the position of an editor , desperately keen to find the missing Milly Dowler. Hacking her cell phone was reprehensible - but had she been found, everyone would have overlooked that misstep in the general euphoria.

Of course the deletion of messages on her cellphone , attributed to to the NotW, which gave her parents hope that she might be alive, was seen as being absolutely dreadful.

The story was a Guardian "scoop" and repeated again and again. The closure of the News of the World goes right back to that horrendous publicity. Except, we now learn, it wasn't true. There is no proof NotW journalists did it. The messages may even have been deleted automatically. In the meantime there has been a £3 million settlement with the Dowler family.

My original protest was writ even larger in a piece commissioned by the British Journalism Review, just published. As is the way with a running story , it has been overtaken by events. But my conclusion remains the same. The loss of the News of the World was completely unnecessary - and the whole country is the poorer.

This week NotW chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, speaking out for the first time on the BBC Radio Four Media Show, reinforced my view a hundred-fold.

Thurlbeck , uninvolved in the hacking, tells how his advice on containing the crisis was ignored . The News of the World "chose to do nothing," he says. And he praises to the sky the 99 percent of "honest and hardworking" journalists who were devastated by the closure . Listen to what he says .http://tinyurl.com/clwsr8g

In my time in newspapers in Scotland , I learned to my cost that the most dangerous type of libel involved not "hurt feelings" but "business loss". England of course has different laws . And News International decided to close the NotW of their own accord, albeit after a crash in advertising.

But can you imagine the bill the Guardian might now be facing if they were called in to pick up even part of the tab for News International's " business losses"?

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