Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused News Corp. newspapers in the U.K. of using criminals to get stories about him while he was in office.
Brown also said that he was reduced to tears when the Sun tabloid phoned him to say its reporters had obtained his son Fraser’s medical records showing that he had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
“The level of criminality involved, which is going to be exposed, meant that there were links between that newspaper, and that group of newspapers, and well-known criminals in this country,” Brown said in an interview with BBC television broadcast today. “This is an issue and will become an issue about the abuse of political power as well as the abuse of civil liberties.”
Brown said reporters accessed his family’s legal, financial and medical records using “blagging” techniques, where people impersonate someone over the phone in order to obtain private information. Reporters for the Sunday Times accessed his bank account so they could run a story “with the purpose of bringing me down as a government minister,” Brown, who was chancellor of the exchequer at the time, told the BBC.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that News International was trying to influence policy -- their editorials show that they were publicly wanting to influence policy -- but of course they used all channels to try to do this,” Brown said. “The record will show that some people at News International abused their power, there’s no doubt about that.”
News International, the British publishing division of New York-based News Corp., publishes the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times. It also owned the News of the World, which published its last issue on July 10 after allegations the newspaper hacked into voicemails of terror and murder victims and paid police for stories triggered a public outcry.
Brown said he couldn’t answer questions about whether News International Chief Executive Officer Rebekah Brooks sent a text message saying he should sack a defense minister. He said it was a matter for his wife, Sarah, as the allegation referred to a text that she received.
Asked what his reaction was on hearing the Sun had details of his son’s diagnosis, Brown said “in tears, your son was now going to be broadcast across the media. Sarah and I were incredibly upset about it.
“We were thinking about his long-term future, we were thinking about our family,” Brown said. “But there’s nothing that you can do about it, you’re in public life and this story appears.”
In a statement today, News International said it is satisfied the Sun obtained the story from a legitimate source and pledged to look into the allegations made by Brown.
“So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us,” it said.
Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who today met the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler to discuss allegations that their daughter’s phone was hacked shortly after she disappeared, said the treatment of Brown was “disgusting.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said the reporting about Brown’s son “looks like yet another example of the appalling invasion of privacy.”
“To have your children’s privacy invaded in that way, particularly when your child isn’t well, is heartbreaking,” Cameron told BBC television. He said his government “won’t rest until we get to the bottom of what is clearly an appalling mess.”
Cameron has pledged to hold separate public inquires into the police handling of the original phone-hacking allegations against the News of the World and the conduct of media organizations. Police investigations into the hacking allegations and claims officers were paid for stories are under way.