They listened to the messages left for the dead girl. Then, her mailbox filled up. No-one would be able to leave a message. There would be no new stories.
So, they deleted some of the old messages they had eavesdropped upon, to make room so that they could eavesdrop on new messages. It became apparent to the family that messages had been deleted, and for a period it gave them brief, agonising hope that Milly Dowler was still alive. She wasn't.
The police knew this was happening. At the time, they knew. And they did nothing.
So, what do we have? A press that doesn't think twice about breaking into the voicemail of a murdered teenager, destroying potential evidence by deleting messages, and giving her family false hope that she is alive. A press that has done this over and over and over and over, to politicians, to celebrities, to public figures - and, if the stories are to be believed (and now, why shouldn't they be) to the parents of two other teenager murder victims.
A police force, which has known about this for years. Years. And done nothing. Because their cosy, dirty relationship with the press was too good to spoil. Too much information. And too much cash in brown envelopes. The papers paid the police off, for information. And in return, police officers demonstrated that they were twice over unfit to be in uniform - once because they took the bribes, and once because they ignored the crimes of those who lined their pockets.
Supine politicial parties, who are so scared of the Murdoch press and the dirt that they might have on them, that they do nothing but meekly bleat occasionally when the revelations are so terrible that they can't say nothing.
A Prime Minister, who employed the man who was assistant editor at the News of the World at the time Milly Dowler's phone was hacked - and who was editor for years while the rest went on - as his press officer, and backed him to the hilt. A Prime Minister who is a regular dinner guest of the woman who was editor at the time Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, and is now UK chief executive at News International.
A company which has just been given the green light - by the Culture Secretary appointed by that Prime Minister - to take over yet more of the UK media.
So what do we have in the UK?
We have a giant pyramid, made of shit.
There's shit at the bottom, the bent coppers and the dirty hacks who connive to cheat and tap and bribe and cover up. There's shit in the middle, the editors and sub-editors and senior police officers who know it's going on but turn a blind eye, and then have the effrontery to turn around when it all comes out and pretend they knew nothing about it - which means they are either liars, or incompetent fools. And then there's shit at the top, because the cosy dinners between PM and News International execs, Rupert Murdoch being the first visitor to Downing St after Cameron was elected, Labour PMs being guests at Brooks' wedding, every last bit of it, is just the top of the giant pyramid of shit. And it may be the top, but it stinks just as much as the bottom does.
We can't ever point the finger at another country and talk about corruption. We can't. Because the most important thing that the phone-hacking scandal is showing is not the moral bankruptcy of some journalists, it's not that you can buy some police officers like they're on the shelves at Sainsburys: it's that there's a tight and filthy mesh of corruption and bribery and coercion and influence that links significant parts of our society, and it's been there for years, and I fear it's not going away any time soon.