Everyone expected the police to make some shocking discoveries while digging through the News of the World phone hacking evidence, but The Guardian is reporting a bombshell. Scotland Yard notified Sara Payne, the mother of murdered eight-year-old Sarah Payne, that she had been targeted by News of the World's private investigator and phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire. Payne's personal details were found in Mulcaire's notes, which suggest that a phone gifted to Payne by News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks was hacked. One of Payne's close friends told The Guardian, "We are all appalled and disgusted. Sara is in bits about it."
The details are still fuzzy about what exactly News of the World did with the phone, but the connection to another high-profile murder case spells trouble for News Corp. Rebekah Brooks has cited News of the World's involvement in the Sarah Payne case as an example of the paper having done good. Indeed, News of the World played a key role in passing new legislation inspired by the case to help fight sex offenders that's been dubbed "Sarah's law." Brooks referred to Sarah's law as recently as her hearing at Parliament earlier this month. Questions arose then about the paper's use of private detectives, and Brooks said that work around the Sarah's law was the only case in which she used a private detective.
Brooks immediately condemned the accusations. She offered an explanation of how the phone ended up in Sara Payne's possession and called the allegations "abhorrent" in a statement:
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. It was not a personal gift. 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.
Nevertheless, people are already calling the phone that Brooks gave to Sarah Payne's mother "the smoking phone." The implication is that if Brooks admitted to working with a private detective and that private detective hacked into Sara Payne's phone, then logically, Brooks had knowledge of phone hacking. Her involvement would prove that knowledge of phone hacking existed on the most senior level and bring new scrutiny to the involvement of other News Corp. executives, perhaps even Rupert and James Murdoch.
Backlash from the public could get ugly. Sara Payne actually wrote an op-ed in the final edition of News of the World on July 10 and referred to the paper's staff as her "good and trusted friends." This latest revelation smacks of betrayal.