In a letter to a committee investigating the phone hacking scandal, Rowley said investigators in April 2002 were most concerned with information the News of the World had that might help them find Milly Dowler, The Independent reported.
Milly's body was found a few months later. Revelations about the hacking this summer caused such a storm that press baron Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World.
Rowley acknowledged police did not investigate the newspaper's actions at the time. He said the Surrey Police is now conducting its own investigation of its failure to act.
The first investigation of phone hacking was done by the Metropolitan Police in 2006 and involved allegations that the weekly tabloid had hacked into voice mail of members of the royal family and their staff.
Surrey Police said the force apparently did not alert their colleagues to the Dowler case.
"Had Surrey Police acted in 2002, it may have prevented the culture of hacking becoming endemic at News of the World," said Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. "This was a serious omission. The committee will be investigating further the reasons why Surrey Police did not follow up on this evidence."