LONDON — Britain's simmering phone hacking scandal erupted again Thursday as a charity founded by the mother of a murdered child said she was targeted by a detective who worked for the News of the World.
The charity, Phoenix Chief Advocates, said Glenn Mulcaire, a detective employed by the now-defunct tabloid, had the details of Sara Payne in his notes. Payne is the mother of 8-year-old Sarah Payne, whose murder by a pedophile in 2000 shocked Britain and was heavily covered by the News of the World.
The charity said in a statement that police had previously said Sara Payne's name was not on a list held by Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for hacking into the voice mail messages of royal staff. But it said "it has now been confirmed by (police) that Sara's details are on his list."
"Sara is absolutely devastated by this news, we're all deeply disappointed and are just working to get her through it," it said.
The Colchester, England-based charity advocates for victims of pedophile crimes.
It was unclear whether Mulcaire had merely obtained Payne's number or whether he or anyone else had tried to eavesdrop on her voice mails. Thousands of names were on Mulcaire's list, and it still isn't certain how many of them were actually spied upon.
The ongoing scandal over illegal eavesdropping has shaken Rupert Murdoch's global media empire, led to the resignation of top executives, including Murdoch protege Rebekah Brooks, and prompted the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid, which she once edited.
Murdoch's News International company said in a statement that the matter is being taken "very seriously" and said the company would cooperate with all criminal and civil inquiries into the new allegations.
If it were shown that Mulcaire had in fact targeted Payne, and that he had done so at the behest of Brooks' paper, it would be one of the most shocking revelations to have emerged so far.
Brooks was closely involved in covering the death of Sarah Payne, and under her stewardship, the News of the World was heavily involved in campaigning for a measure, dubbed "Sarah's Law," to give the public access to information about convicted sex offenders. It set up a petition that drew hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Sara Payne even wrote an article for the News of the World's final edition, calling the muckraking tabloid "a force for good."
In a statement, Brooks said the latest allegations were "particularly upsetting" because Payne was a "dear friend."
"The idea that anyone on the newspaper knew that Sara or the campaign team were targeted by Mr. Mulcaire is unthinkable," she said. "The idea of her being targeted is beyond my comprehension."
The news came as a senior judge opened an inquiry into the scandal that will start by looking at whether the country needs tougher media regulation, and will have the power to force witnesses to give evidence.
Justice Brian Leveson said he has the legal power to demand statements and documents from witnesses – and plans to use it "as soon as possible."
Only two people have been jailed for hacking – Mulcaire and reporter Clive Goodman, both in 2007. But parent company News International now admits the eavesdropping was more widespread, and the tabloid is accused of targeting the voicemail of celebrities, politicians, other journalists and even murder victims – including 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked after she disappeared in 2002. She was later found murdered.
Leveson's inquiry was announced earlier this month by Prime Minister David Cameron. His seven-member panel includes a veteran newspaper reporter, a former police chief, a civil liberties activist and a broadcast journalist. They held their first formal meeting Thursday and will begin public hearings in September.
The panel is due to issue a report within a year. Leveson said he would strive to meet that deadline, but "not at all costs."
A second part of the inquiry will examine specific allegations of wrongdoing at News of the World, but can't start until the criminal investigation by police is finished – which could be years away.
Leveson said the inquiry would examine "the culture, practices and ethics of the press."
"In the first instance the inquiry will focus primarily on the relationship between the press and public and the related issues of press regulation," he said.
Later, it will look at relations among the press, police and politicians.
Leveson said he would soon send out letters summoning evidence and witnesses, who may include journalists, news executives, police and politicians.
But he said he hoped people would participate willingly to help root out wrongdoing.
"It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a group of journalists then operating at the News of the World, but I would encourage all to take a wider view of the public good and help me grapple with the width and depth of the problem," he said.
The inquiry will try to get to grips with a scandal that continues to shake Britain's police, political and media establishment. It already has led to the resignations of London's police chief and two senior executives of Murdoch's News Corp.
James Murdoch, Rupert's son, is among those whose future hangs in the balance. But he received a boost when the board of British Sky Broadcasting unanimously backed him to remain chairman of the broadcaster.
A person with access to the decision-making process said the role of the chairman had been discussed at length, and Murdoch received the unanimous support of all directors. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the news was not yet officially released.
The board meeting was the first since News Corp. abandoned a takeover bid for BSkyB because of the scandal at the News of the World.
The meeting was primarily held to sign the full year earnings report of BSkyB, which is 39 percent owned by News Corp.