Incredible as it may seem after the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone revealed the depths to which the News of the World had sunk, a new low was established yesterday. The newspaper’s investigator Glenn Mulcaire may have hacked the phone of Sara Payne.
Her eight-year-old daughter Sarah was abducted and murdered in 2000. The News of the World under its then editor Rebekah Brooks befriended Sara Payne and together campaigned for the introduction of better child protection from paedophiles.
The Guardian is suggesting that Payne – who eulogised the News of the World in its final edition earlier this month – was hacked on the very phone given her by Brooks.
Earlier today Lord Justice Leveson, who is leading a public inquiry into the phone hacking scandal, warned the Press against the temptation to close ranks and suggest the problem was “local to a small group of journalists operating at the News of the World.”
I expect this will be the least likely response of those newspapers in the firing line.
The expression a “circular firing squad” is tailor-made to describe how papers will be falling over themselves to implicate their rivals.
They may hope one way to dilute the public’s disgust at their excesses is to show that phone hacking was common among tabloid newspapers.
Leading the chase to draw CNN frontman Piers Morgan, former editor the Daily Mirror, into the farrago is political blogger Paul Staines who writes under the Guido Fawkes name.
He told USA Today he wants to expose illegal practices that have been widespread across Fleet Street for years.
"What I'm trying to do is widen the circular firing squad and the way to do it is you've got to have a villain,” he said.
For his part Morgan has insisted: “I have never hacked a phone, told anybody to hack a phone or published any story based on the hacking of a phone.”
This would all be good knockabout stuff were it not for the fact every now and again the hacking scandal reveals that the privacy of innocents like Milly Dowler and Sarah Payne and her mother have been violated by cynical newspaper men and women in pursuit of higher sales.