News of the World 'hacked Sara Payne phone'

The News of the World played a key role in the campaign which followed Sarah Payne's death
The News of the World played a key role in the campaign which followed Sarah Payne's death

By staff

The reputation of News International was dragged further into the mud today following reports that staff at the News of the World bugged the phone of Sarah Payne's mother.

The revelation is particularly damaging because of the close relationship between the mother of the murdered schoolgirl, Sara Payne, and the newspaper.

Ms Payne even wrote a heartfelt goodbye to the newspaper in its final edition, saying: "Today is a day to reflect, to look back and remember the passing of an old friend, the News of the World."

Reports indicate that the hacking may have taken place through a phone given to Ms Payne by Rebekah Brooks, then editor of the News of the World.

Ms Payne, whose daughter was abducted and murdered in July 2000, was initially told that her name was not among those recorded in the records of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

However the Guardian is now reporting that officers informed Ms Payne that they had found her personal details among the private investigator's notes.

The news will come as a shock to Ms Payne, who invited News of the World journalists to family funerals and worked closely with the newspaper to lobby for a change in the law after her daughter's death.

In her statement upon the News of the World closure, Ms Payne wrote: "The NOTW team supported me through some of the darkest, most difficult times of my life and became my trusted friends.

"One example of their support was to give me a phone to help me stay in touch with my family, friends and support network, which turned out to be an absolute lifeline."

The decision to target Ms Payne is particularly hard to understand given the strength of the relationship she already had with the newspaper. If proven, it will strengthen the position of those who say phone-hacking had run completely out of control at the News of the World.

It will also complicate the ability of James and Rupert Murdoch to ride out the crisis, as commentators start to put pressure on Ofcom to assess whether they are "fit and proper" persons to own the 36% of BSkyB they still have control over.

"Horrendous allegations about Sara Payne phone hacking," tweeted Harriet Harman.

"So sad for Sara who has worked for important changes for victims."

Labour MP Tom Watson, a leading campaigner on phone-hacking, said: "This is a new low. The last edition of the News of the World made great play of the paper's relationship with the Payne family. Brooks talked about it at the committee inquiry. Now this. I have nothing but contempt for the people that did this."

Ms Brooks, who has insisted throughout that she was far removed from any incidents of phone-hacking, will be badly affected by the reports. The former editor worked closely on the aftermath of the Payne tragedy.

She issued a statement saying: "Sara Payne is a dear friend. The idea of her being targeted is beyond my comprehension."

Ms Payne's campaigning was instrumental in giving some parents the right to know of any paedophiles living in their local area.

While police forces and child support groups were livid about the campaign, Labour eventually gave in and introduced a pilot programme which might still be rolled out around the country.

The News of the World was instrumental in the process and at one point even began publishing names of convicted paedophiles in the area, in a move which many critics attacked for encouraging vigilantism.

Ms Brooks said that the battle for 'Sarah's Law' was one of her proudest achievements.


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