Sarah Payne inquiry officer believes phone was hacked

Martyn Underhill
Image caption Mr Underhill was in charge of liaising with Sarah Payne's mother Sara.

A former police officer who worked on the Sarah Payne murder investigation fears his phone may have been hacked on behalf of the News of the World.

Martin Underhill, now living in Dorset, was the detective chief inspector with Sussex Police in charge of liaising with Sarah Payne's mother, Sara.

Mr Underhill has since contacted police involved in the phone-hacking inquiry.

He claimed a News of the World (NOTW) executive contacted him with an inaccurate story about the Paynes.

Mr Underhill believes it may have been based on misinterpreted voicemail messages.

'Reliable source'

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World at One, Mr Underhill said he was contacted by a senior executive at the NOTW who told him they wanted to run an exclusive story on the front page, the following day, about him and the Payne family.

He says he was urged to admit the allegation, as the NOTW had the information from a "very reliable source".

Mr Underhill said: "It was completely and utterly untrue and I was flabbergasted. I said to them: 'This is not true - if you print it I will sue you'. The story was never printed.

"If it was a reliable source I would expect that story to have been run. It was not run and nothing more happened."

Mr Underhill said it only occurred to him that the source referred to by the senior executive could have been illegal when the phone hacking scandal broke.

'Covert operations'

When asked what the allegation made by the NOTW was, Mr Underhill said: "I don't want to talk about it. It wouldn't be fair to me or the Payne family."

He said the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking had not found his number as part of any evidence but officers were still searching.

Mr Underhill said information about covert inquiries would have been left in voicemail messages on the mobile phone issued to him by the police.

The news comes on the day Sara Payne described how she has been left "very distressed" after being told her phone might have been hacked by NOTW.

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