by a Newsnet reporter
In 2000, 8 year old Sarah Payne was abducted and murdered. Her killer is now serving a life sentence. In the aftermath of the loss of her daughter under such appalling circumstances, her mother Sara embarked upon a campaign to allow parents the right to know whether a convicted child sex offender was living in their area. Called Sarah’s Law, the campaign was actively supported by the News of the World, then edited by Rebekah Brooks (then Rebekah Wade).
As recently as the closure of the NotW, Mrs Payne was one of the paper’s supporters. She wrote an article for the final edition publication in which she praised the “good work” it had done and referred to its staff as her “good and trusted friends”. But now police have informed Mrs Payne that she may have been one of the newspaper’s victims. According to friends she is “devastated” by the news.
The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday that Rebekah Brooks had given Mrs Payne a mobile telephone in order to assist her campaigning work. Details of this telephone were found in the notes made by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, which police are currently sifting through in order to identify the victims of illegal phone-hacking attempts. It is understood that officers have discovered evidence in the notes which suggests the phone may have been hacked.
Rebekah Brooks insists that the phone was not a personal gift but was given to Mrs Payne by the paper, “for the benefit of the campaign for Sarah’s law”
In a statement released last night Mrs Brooks said: “These allegations are abhorrent and particularly upsetting as Sara Payne is a dear friend.
“For the benefit of the campaign for Sarah’s Law, the News of the World have provided Sara with a mobile telephone for the last 11 years …
“The idea that anyone on the newspaper knew that Sara or the campaign team were targeted by Mr Mulcaire is unthinkable. The idea of her being targeted is beyond my comprehension.
“It is imperative for Sara and the other victims of crime that these allegations are investigated and those culpable brought to justice.”
Mrs Brooks has been arrested in connection with the phone-hacking and corruption allegations. She denies all knowledge of any illegal activities at the paper.
As of last night, News International had yet to make a response to the latest allegations. Speaking to the BBC, Labour MP Tom Watson, a member of the Parliamentary committee investigating the affair, said: “Poor Sara Payne relied on these people to execute her campaign, they introduced her to politicians, they published literature for her, and now she, for the first time, has had confirmation that she was a target for one of News International’s private investigators.
“I don’t hear an apology from the company tonight, I don’t see any contrition, I just see an attempt to try and muddy the waters.”
In late developments last night Police officer Mark Underhill of Sussex police, who was involved in the investigation into the murder of Sarah Payne, has claimed that his phone may also have been hacked.