Sarah Payne's mother allegedly hacked by NOTW

A phone given to Payne by Rebekah Brooks, to help her keep in touch with supporters, was targeted by

Police have found evidence that Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah Payne, the eight year old who was was abducted and murdered in July 2000, could have been targeted by the News of the World's investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

The revelation that Payne's phone could have been hacked is particularly shocking in light of her close relationship with the newspaper, which under Rebekah Brook's editorship campaigned for a change in the law to allow the identification of paedophiles. Brooks said that the battle for "Sarah's Law" was one of her proudest achievements.

When she heard that the newspaper was going to be closed, Payne gave a heartfelt statement in which she said "it feels like a friend had just died". She also said:

The NOTW team supported me through some of the darkest, most difficult times of my life and became my trusted friends.

One example of their support was to give me a phone to help me stay in touch with my family, friends and support network, which turned out to be an absolute lifeline. A lifeline policy that we now adopt as victims' advocates.

Since Sarah was murdered, my marriage broke down, my brother passed away, then my mother and then my father.

I just don't know what I would have done without being able to reach out to my friends and family 'whenever I needed them' during these very dark times and it helped me stay in touch with the NOTW team regarding their support for my campaign to bring about Sarah's Law which went national this year.

It is thought that the evidence that police have found in Mulcaire's notes relate to this phone -- which, according to the Guardian, was given to Payne as a gift by Brooks. In the same statement, Payne said it would be a "devastating intolerable betrayal" if her phone had been hacked. She even wrote a column in the final issue of the newspaper.

This latest development will reignite speculation about how much Brooks knew about phone-hacking, given her close involvement with the Payne case and the campaign for "Sarah's Law" as editor of News of the World. Brooks denies any knowledge of phone-hacking. She told MPs last week that "we only know what we have read", and said she was horrified to read in the Guardian that the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked.

If the allegation does turn out to be true, the key question will simply be "why?", given that Payne had a close working and personal relationship with senior executives at the newspaper.

 

UPDATE 17.30

Rebekah Brooks has given a statement confirming that Payne was given a phone by the newspaper:

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.

 

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.