THE police force that investigated the murder of Milly Dowler has been accused of knowing in 2002 that the schoolgirl's phone was hacked.
It has emerged that detectives were informed nine years ago that the News Of The World (NOTW) had accessed her voicemails.
The Surrey force did not investigate or take any action against the NOTW, according to a British newspaper.
Allegations that the murdered teenager's phone messages were hacked did not become public until early July this year.
Around three weeks later, it emerged that in 2002 Surrey Police had removed a detective from the probe into her disappearance after the officer passed on details of the case to a friend.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is currently investigating.
Last night, the Dowler family's solicitor, Mark Lewis, said: "Questions need to be asked why the police seemed keener on selling newspapers than solving crimes. It seems that when the public dialled 999, the police dialled NOTW."
A spokeswoman for Surrey Police said: "In 2002, our priority was to find Milly and then to find out what had happened to her and to bring her killer to justice. Clearly, there was a huge amount of professional interaction between Surrey Police and the media throughout that time.
"At this time, we must respect the primacy of the Metropolitan Police Service investigation into phone hacking and we are providing all relevant information about the Milly Dowler case.
"To prevent prejudicing this inquiry, or any prosecutions which may result from it, we are unable to put all the facts into the public domain at this stage.
"Any detail, such as Surrey Police's knowledge or any contact with the News Of The World in 2002, could be highly relevant to that investigation and could potentially prejudice it. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for us to make any further comment at this time."
She said that the force had referred the leak allegations to the IPCC so that a "thorough and wholly independent investigation" could be carried out.
The force maintained the detective constable had been talking to a retired police officer friend.
The spokeswoman added: "There remains no information available to us to suggest the officer has committed any additional wrongdoing and based on the information available to us, we do not consider it necessary to review his status."