Tabloid’s Pursuit of Missing Girl Led to Its Own Demise

LONDON—In April 2002, News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid scrambled at least eight reporters and photographers to an Epson ink-cartridge factory in Britain’s Midlands region, hoping to land a big scoop: Missing Milly Dowler Found Alive.

Improbably, the tabloid’s news desk had reason to believe the 13-year-old girl—whose disappearance was then a big story in Britain—had run away from home and gotten a job at the Epson factory. The reason: The paper had a voice-mail message, apparently intercepted from her phone, suggesting she worked there.

The tabloid’s hope was that, “When Milly Dowler clocked off work, we would be there outside the gates,” said one journalist involved in the three-day stakeout, which hasn’t previously been reported. “We could say, ‘There you are, Milly, the whole world has been looking for you.’”

It turned out the girl wasn’t working at Epson. In September 2002, she was found murdered.

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