07.28.11

New Phone-Hacking Bombshell

An investigator hacking phones for News of the World reportedly targeted the mother of another murdered girl, possibly using a phone given to her by Rebekah Brooks.

Apparently, it wasn’t just Milly Dowler.

According to The Guardian, British police have told the mother of an 8-year-old girl abducted and killed in 2000 that they believe her phone was hacked by Glenn Mulcaire, an investigator working for News of the World. And in a shocking twist, the mobile phone in question may have been given to the mother of the murdered girl by Rebekah Brooks—casting serious doubts on claims by the former News of the World editor that she was unaware of hacking at the paper during her tenure there.

Sarah Payne was abducted near her grandparents’ home in southern England 11 years ago and found dead two weeks later. After her disappearance and the subsequent trial and conviction of her murderer, News of the World quickly took her case up as a cause—creating a high-profile public campaign that would allow parents to get access to a law-enforcement registry of sex offenders. (The law is somewhat similar to Megan’s Law in the U.S.)

Although Sarah’s mother, Sara, was initially told that her name was not on the list of phones that Mulcaire had hacked—a list that included members of the royal family and the phone of Milly Dowler, a teenager later found murdered—The Guardian on Thursday reported that Scotland Yard has now told her it has evidence that her phone was hacked.

It’s a stunning turn of events because of Sara Payne’s closeness to the now-defunct News of the World. She wrote a farewell column in the paper’s final edition in which she referred to staff as “my good and trusted friends.” And it gets worse: Payne was apparently given a phone by Brooks, who was forced to step down following revelations about the hacking scandal, supposedly so Payne would be able to stay in touch with supporters during her ordeal. On Thursday, The Guardian reported, “The evidence that police have found in Mulcaire's notes is believed to relate to a phone given to Payne by Brooks as a gift to help her stay in touch with her supporters.”

'I didn't think they could have sunk any lower. They did,' Labour MP Tom Watson tells The Daily Beast.

Throughout the scandal, Brooks has maintained that while she was aware of payments to police for information, she was not aware of widespread phone hacking during or after her tenure at the paper.

Tom Watson, the Labour member of Parliament who’s been an aggressive prosecutor of the scandal, told The Daily Beast from London: “I didn’t think they could have sunk any lower. They did.”

Payne, meanwhile, has not commented publicly, but a friend told The Guardian, “We are all appalled and disgusted. Sara is in bits about it."

With Mike Giglio