Evidence found in private detective's notes believed to relate to phone which Rebekah Brooks gave to Sara Payne as gift
Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah was abducted and murdered in July 2000, has been told by Scotland Yard that they have found evidence to suggest she was targeted by the News of the World's investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who specialised in hacking voicemail.
Police had earlier told her correctly that her name was not among those recorded in Mulcaire's notes, but on Tuesday officers from Operation Weeting told her they had found her personal details among the investigator's notes. These had previously been thought to refer to a different target.
Friends of Sara Payne have told the Guardian that she is "absolutely devastated and deeply disappointed" at the disclosure. Her cause had been championed by the News of the World, and in particular by its former editor, Rebekah Brooks. Believing that she had not been a target for hacking, Payne wrote a farewell column for the paper's final edition on 10 July, referring to its staff as "my good and trusted friends".
The evidence that police have found in Mulcaire's notes is believed to relate to a phone given to Sara Payne by Rebekah Brooks as a gift to help her stay in touch with her supporters. One of Payne's close colleagues said: "We are all appalled and disgusted. Sara is in bits about it."
Coming after the disclosure that the News of the World hacked and deleted the voicemail of the murdered Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the news will raise further questions about whether News Corporation is "fit and proper" to own TV licences and its 39% share of BSkyB.
It will also revive speculation about the possible role in phone hacking of Rebekah Brooks, who was personally very closely involved in covering the aftermath of Sarah Payne's murder and has always denied any knowledge of voicemail interception. On 15 July Brooks resigned as chief executive of News International and was arrested and interviewed by police.
The Labour MP Tom Watson, who has been an outspoken critic of News International, said of the Payne revelation: "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."
Friends of Sara Payne said she had accepted the News of the World as a friend and ally. Journalists from the paper attended the funerals of her mother and father and visited her sick bed after she suffered a severe stroke in December 2009.
In the wake of the Guardian's disclosure on 4 July of the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, there were rumours that Sara Payne also might have been a victim. Police from Operation Weeting, which has been investigating the News of the World's phone hacking since January, checked the names of Payne and her closest associates against its database of all the information contained in the notebooks, computer records and audio tapes seized from Glenn Mulcaire in August 2006. They found nothing.
The News of the World's sister paper, the Sun, was quick to report on its website, on 8 July, that Payne had been told there was no evidence to support the rumours. The next day the Sun quoted her paying tribute to the News of the World, whose closure had been announced by News International. "It's like a friend died. I'm so shocked," she told them.
In the paper's final edition on Sunday 10 July, Payne registered her own anger at the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone: "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 rumours - 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."
Since then, detectives from Weeting have searched the Mulcaire database for any reference to mobile phone numbers used by Sara Payne or her closest associates or any other personal details. They are believed to have uncovered notes made by Mulcaire which include some of these details but which had previously been thought to refer to a different target of his hacking. Police have some 11,000 pages of notes which Mulcaire made in the course of intercepting the voicemail of targets chosen by the News of the World.
Friends of Sara Payne today said that she had made no decision about whether to sue the paper and that she wanted the police to be able to finish their work before she decided.
Operation Weeting are reviewing all high-profile cases involving the murder, abduction or assault of any child since 2001 in an attempt to find out if any of those involved was the target of phone-hacking.