• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Second Murdered Girl Tied to News of the World Phone Hacking

Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch
Indigo/Getty Images

In a troubling twist, the mother of 8-year-old Sarah Payne says the phone was given to her by disgraced editor Rebekah Brooks.

LONDON – The scandal of phone-hacking looks set to continue to torment News Corporation and the Murdoch family after it emerged Thursday that Scotland Yard have told the mother of murdered eight-year old schoolgirl Sarah Payne that the mobile phone she was given by then News of The World editor Rebekah Brooks was hacked into by the paper’s investigators.

The news comes as News Corporation deputy COO James Murdoch, who is in charge of the British newspaper division and has admitted issuing payments to victims of the phone-hacking, was given the unanimous support of board members of BSkyB, the pay-TV powerhouse where he is chairman. The new hacking development, which was condemned by the Payne family and Members of Parliament even as it broke Thursday afternoon, is even more chilling because of the extent to which the News of The World had befriended the Payne family under Brooks’ editorship.

PHOTOS: News of the World's Top 10 Scandals

"The idea of her being targeted is beyond my comprehension. These allegations are abhorrent and particularly upsetting as Sara Payne is a dear friend," Brooks said in a statament pertaining to Sarah Payne's mother's accusations. Brooks has denied knowledge of hacking in past statements.

Brooks, the former editor of The News of The World had developed a close relationship with the family and used it to mount the biggest campaign of her career, a mission to introduce the British equivalent of Megan’s Law in memory of the murdered eight-year old girl, who was abducted and sexually assaulted by a convicted pedofile in 2000. The phone is understood to have been given to Sara Payne as part of that campaign.

STORY: Confessions of a 'News of the World' Reporter (Exclusive)

Representatives of the Phoenix Charity launched by the Payne family said Sarah’s mother – Sara Payne – was “absolutely devastated” by the news. Labour Party MP Tom Watson, who sits on the Culture Media and Sport select committee which compelled James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch – very reluctantly – to give evidence a week ago, said the news was “a new low.”

“How could these people do what they did?” he Tweeted

Theresa Coffey, another member of the Committee said: “clearly this is another dark chapter in this ongoing saga. I can’t imagine the distress Mrs Payne is going through now.”

When evidence emerged that News of The World investigator Glen Mulcaire had hacked into the mobile phone of another murdered schoolgirl – 13-year old Milly Dowler - officers in Scotland Yard’s phone hacking investigation unit Operation Weeting had initially told the Payne family that no evidence had been found to suggest they had been affected.

STORY: Rupert Murdoch Confidante Rebekah Brooks Arrested by Police

However they have now told the family that details of the phone given to Sara Payne by Rebekah Brooks were found among papers seized by the police.

As recently as three weeks ago, when the News of The World was closed by James Murdoch, the murdered girl’s mother Sara Payne had given the paper her support, writing in its final issue that she considered the newspaper “an old friend”.

“We have all seen the news this week and the terrible things that have happened, and I have no wish to sweep it under the carpet. Indeed, there were rumors - which turned out to be untrue - that I and my fellow [Phoenix]charity chiefs had our phones hacked. But today is a day to reflect, to look back and remember the passing of an old friend, the News of the World."

Brooks resigned as CEO of News International in July 15, a day before she was arrested by police. She has been released on bail.