Craig Denholm

A senior police officer at the centre of “collective amnesia” over the alleged hacking of murdered Greater London schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone by journalists has been announced as the Deputy Chief Constable of another force.

Craig Denholm (above), who is in the same role at Surrey Police, was given “words of advice” – the lowest form of sanction – after an investigation found the force knew for a decade that News of the World reporters had gained access to the youngster’s phone.

But despite this Mr Denholm was appointed on Thursday by Hampshire Chief Constable Andy Marsh who said the officer was “an experienced and very capable DCC with a good track record of leadership and delivery of excellent policing services to the public”.

Surrey Police said it had taken “management action and issued words of advice” to Mr Denholm and another officer on Wednesday, although the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) concluded neither had a case to answer for misconduct.

The IPCC added it was “hard to understand” how Mr Denholm, the officer in charge of the Milly Dowler inquiry, could not have been aware of the hacking allegations.

The IPCC found that a number of more junior officers at Surrey Police in 2002 were frank about their knowledge of phone hacking but the force did nothing.

However, witnesses became much “less specific” in relation to the knowledge and actions of senior officers – particularly Mr Denholm.

Mr Denholm, who was detective chief superintendent and head of crime for Surrey Police in 2002, claimed to have had no knowledge about the hacking of Milly’s phone.

The watchdog was unable to find any witness or evidence that contradicted Mr Denholm’s repeated assertions that he did not know.

In a statement released by Hampshire Police, Mr Denholm said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been appointed as Deputy Chief Constable in Hampshire.

“I have had the pleasure of serving with the force before and look forward to working with Andy Marsh and all in the Hampshire Constabulary team, and helping make what is already a great force even better.”

Mr Marsh said: “Craig is an experienced and very capable DCC with a good track record of leadership and delivery of excellent policing services to the public.

“He will be a valuable addition to the team and I look forward to working with him in Hampshire over the next few years.”

Hampshire police and crime commissioner, Simon Hayes, who was a member of the selection panel, said: “I was very impressed with the high calibre of candidates and, in selecting Craig Denholm, I feel certain that our chief officer team will be strengthened and equipped to take the force in a positive direction, protecting people and places and ensuring Hampshire and the Isle of Wight remain safe places to live, work and visit.”

Mr Denholm’s start date is yet to be confirmed.

He was appointed Deputy Chief Constable of Surrey Police in June 2009 and his policing career began in the Metropolitan Police in 1984.

The IPCC said earlier this week that officers at “all levels” of Surrey Police were aware of the phone hacking allegations during the 2002 murder investigation.

But the watchdog added it had not been able to discover why the force failed to act, adding that senior officers were suffering from a “form of collective amnesia”.

Former nightclub bouncer Levi Bellfield was convicted of Milly’s murder in June 2011, some nine years after she vanished as she walked home from Walton-on-Thames station.

Following Bellfield’s trial, then Surrey Police Chief Constable Mark Rowley set up Operation Baronet to look into reports that Surrey Police were aware in April 2002 that the News of the World had allegedly intercepted Milly’s voicemail.

Surrey Police Authority and Surrey Police referred Mr Denholm and temporary detective superintendent Maria Woodall to the IPCC in June 2012 in light of evidence arising from Operation Baronet.

IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass said: “Our investigation has heard from officers and former officers from Surrey Police who have expressed surprise and dismay that it wasn’t investigated.

“We have not been able to uncover any evidence, in documentation or witness statements, of why and by whom that decision was made – former senior officers, in particular, appear to have been afflicted by a form of collective amnesia in relation to the events of 2002.

“This is perhaps not surprising, given the events of 2011 and the public outcry that the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone produced.”

In a further statement, Hampshire Police added: “The Milly Dowler case is a Surrey Police investigation and it would not be appropriate for us to comment on it.

“We were aware of the IPCC report. DCC Denholm was an outstanding candidate and selected on merit. We look forward to welcoming him.”