After targeting a spur of celebrities, royals and commoners, News International is now facing a backlash from Ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.
He condemned “the most disgusting work” of?News International?journalists for using known criminals to invade the privacy and feelings of ordinary people, and accused the company of abusing its power for political gain.
Brown was reacting to?revelations that News International journalists had attempted to access his voicemail and had obtained information from his bank account, his legal file and his family’s medical records.
He commented that he was ‘genuinely shocked’ at what happened, and remarked that if he could be the subject of ‘unlawful tactics’, then what about the ordinary citizen.
In an interview with the BBC and the Guardian, Brown confirmed that shortly after the birth of his son Fraser in October 2006,?Rebekah Brooks, then editor of?the Sun, telephoned his wife Sarah to say the paper had obtained details from the boy’s medical records, revealing that he was suspected to be suffering from cystic fibrosis.
Brown said he had never wanted his children’s lives to be the subject of publicity. “I have never talked publicly about Fraser’s condition. Obviously we wanted to keep that private. As a parent, you want to do your best by your children.”
Having no idea as to how the Sun obtained information, he questioned the paper’s claim that this had been done legitimately.
“They will have to explain themselves. I can’t think of any way that the medical condition of a child can be put into the public domain legitimately unless the doctor makes a public statement or the family make a statement.
“I don’t know how it appeared. The fact is that it did appear. It appeared in the Sun.”
He said he had known at the time that his bank account had been penetrated by the?Sunday Times?but had not understood that News International had relied on the help of criminals.
“I had my bank account broken into. I had my legal files effectively broken into. My tax returns went missing at one point. Medical records were broken into. I don’t know how this happened.
“I do know that in two instances there is absolute proof that News International hired people to do this and the people who are doing this are criminals, known criminals in some cases with records of violence and fraud.”
‘Abuse of power’
He said News International had attempted to interfere in his government’s policy on the BBC, on the media regulator Ofcom and generally in pursuit of their commercial interests.
“We stood up to News International and refused to support their commercial ambitions when we thought they were against the public interest.” He suggested this was part of the reason why its newspapers had attacked his government.
“News International pursued an incredibly aggressive agenda in the last year. News International were distorting the news in a way that was designed to pursue a particular political cause. This was an abuse of their power for political gain.
“The record will show that some people at News International abused their power. There is absolutely no doubt that News International were trying to influence policy. This is an issue about the abuse of political power as well as the abuse of civil liberties.”
News International, on their part, denied criticism of its journalistic methods by ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saying stories it wrote about him were legitimately sourced and in the “public interest”.
There is evidence that a private investigator used a serving police officer to trawl the police national computer for information about him. That investigator also targeted another Labour MP who was the subject of hostile inquiries by the News of the World, but it is not confirmed whether News International was specifically involved in trawling police computers for information on Brown.
Brown was targeted during a period of more than 10 years, both as chancellor of the exchequer and as prime minister. Some of the activity clearly was illegal. Other incidents breached his privacy but not the law. An investigation by the Guardian has found that:
? Scotland Yard has discovered references to Brown and his wife, Sarah, in paperwork seized from Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who specialised in?phone hacking?for the News of the World.
? Abbey National bank found evidence suggesting that a “blagger” acting for the?Sunday Times?on six occasions posed as Brown and gained details from his account.
?London lawyers Allen & Overy were tricked into handing over details from his file by a conman working for the Sunday Times.
? Details from his infant son’s medical records were obtained by?the Sun, who published a story about the child’s serious illness.
Brown joins a long list of Labour politicians who are known to have been targeted by private investigators working for News International, including the former prime minister Tony Blair and his media adviser Alastair Campbell, the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and his political adviser Joan Hammell, Peter Mandelson as trade secretary, Jack Straw and David Blunkett as home secretaries, Tessa Jowell as media secretary and her special adviser Bill Bush, and Chris Bryant as minister for Europe.
The sheer scale of the data assault on Brown is unusual, with evidence of attempts to obtain his legal, financial, tax, medical and police records as well as to listen to his voicemail. All of these incidents are linked to media organizations. In many cases, there is evidence of a link to News International.
News of the World was shut down earlier this month by the Murdoch family in a surprise move designed to bring an end to the phone hacking scandal engulfing the newspaper.
Speculation mounted that Murdoch might be forced to sell his remaining newspaper titles, The Sun, Times, and Sunday Times having already closed the News of the World.
Sources: Guardian, Gulfnews, Telegraph