Leveson Inquiry: Brooks and Murdoch lied to inquiry - Gordon Brown
GORDON Brown has accused media mogul Rupert Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks of lying under oath about him when they gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry on media standards.
The former prime minister made the allegation when he appeared at the inquiry on a day when NHS Fife admitted one of its staff probably leaked a story to the Sun about his son Fraser’s medical condition.
He said it was not true that he had willingly given permission for the newspaper to print the story about Fraser’s condition, as claimed by Ms Brooks. Mr Brown also said Mr Murdoch was wrong when the tycoon said he had called him to declare war on his business.
Ms Brooks told the inquiry on 12 May she had been given “express permission” by the Browns to run the story about their son’s medical condition.
But yesterday Mr Brown said: “We were presented with a fait accompli. There was no question of us giving permission for this – implicit or explicit.”
Mr Brown also repeated previous denials that he had “declared war” on the Murdoch empire after it decided to switch support to the Conservatives ahead of the last general election.
When he appeared before the Leveson inquiry on 24 April, Mr Murdoch described an angry telephone call from Mr Brown when the Sun switched allegiance from Labour in 2009.
Mr Murdoch claimed the then prime minister had “declared war on News Corp”, adding: “I don’t think Brown was in a balanced state of mind.”
But Mr Brown yesterday said the conversation “never took place”.
“I’m shocked and surprised that it should be suggested, even when there is no evidence of such a conversation,” he said.
Mr Brown also accused the Tories of signing up to commercial demands of News Corp to get the support of the Murdoch empire – an accusation that Chancellor George Osborne later described as “complete fantasy” when he gave evidence to the inquiry later yesterday.
The former prime minister also told the inquiry that he had received a personal apology from NHS Fife over the leak of the story about his son in 2006.
The health board later confirmed that a member of staff probably spoke “without authorisation” about the medical condition.
John Wilson, chief executive of NHS Fife, issued a statement after Mr Brown criticised the story about his son’s cystic fibrosis at the inquiry.
Mr Brown had complained about the story in July 2011 and the Sun denied accessing medical records.
In an editorial, the Sun said the story “originated from a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis. He came to the Sun with this information voluntarily, because he wanted to highlight the cause of those afflicted by the disease”.
But Mr Brown told Lord Justice Leveson: “In 2006, the Sun claimed they had a story from a man in the street who happened to be the father of someone who suffered from cystic fibrosis. I never believed that could be correct.”
Mr Wilson said in his statement that it was “highly likely” that a member of staff “spoke without authorisation”.
“We now accept that it is highly likely that, some time in 2006, a member of staff in NHS Fife spoke, without authorisation, about the medical condition of Mr Brown’s son, Fraser,” said Mr Wilson.
“With the passage of time, it has not been possible to identify all the circumstances.”
He added: “We believe, however, that there was no inappropriate access to the child’s medical records.”
Mr Wilson said patient confidentiality procedures had been tightened, and added: “I have apologised to Mr and Mrs Brown, and we have taken steps to ensure that what happened to Mr and Mrs Brown and their family should not happen again.”
The Sun’s publisher, News International, welcomed NHS Fife’s findings on Fraser’s medical records.
“We welcome the fact that NHS Fife have today said that they believe there was ‘no inappropriate access’ to the medical records of Gordon Brown’s son,” said a spokesman.
But in his evidence, much of Mr Brown’s anger over his treatment by the press was still focused on his dealings with the tabloid.
He described how a telephone conversation made by Ms Brooks, then editor of the Sun, about the story on Fraser’s condition was misrepresented in her evidence when she suggested they had willingly given permission for the story to run.
He said he was not surprised the Sun had switched allegiance to the Tories on the eve of a Labour Party conference, and added that it was part of an emerging pattern.
He claimed this was because he had stood up to Mr Murdoch’s desires for Ofcom and the BBC to be neutered and for him to take full ownership of BSkyB.
Mr Brown said: “The first thing the Sun did was to try to ruin my first party conference by launching a huge campaign about how we were selling Britain down the river.”
But in particular he vented his fury over the handling of a story about a letter he wrote to the mother of a soldier shot in Afghanistan, Jacqui Janes, whose name he misspelled, and the subsequent recording of the telephone conversation he had with her.
And he accused the paper of trying to undermine the war effort in Afghanistan.
Mrs Janes had accused Mr Brown of being “disrespectful” because the message began “Dear Mrs James” and appeared to contain other spelling errors and a visible correction to her son Jamie’s name.
Mr Brown has suffered with eyesight problems since a rugby accident in his youth
He said he had phoned the media mogul about the coverage, but insisted there was “no reference” to the shift in the Sun’s political allegiance during the Labour Party conference the previous month.
“He asked me would I phone Mrs Brooks, would I have a phone call with her where she would, he hinted, want to apologise for what had happened, and I said I saw no point in phoning her,” Mr Brown said.
But he eventually agreed to make the call “out of respect” for Mr Murdoch.
Mrs Brooks went on to tell him that she had a tape of a conversation he had with Mrs Janes that the newspaper was planning to publish.
“I didn’t get the sense there was an apology coming from the Sun, and I decided there was no point in continuing the conversation,” he added.
Mrs Brooks told the inquiry last month that the tone of the conversation with the former prime minister had been “quite aggressive”.
But Mr Brown insisted that “when you are dealing with some of these issues, you tend to be calmer”.
“I don’t think I was aggressive,” he added.
Mr Brown also repeated previous denials that he had “declared war” on the Murdoch empire. after it decided to switch support to the Conservatives.
He told the inquiry that the conversation in which Mr Murdoch said in his evidence to the inquiry that he “acted in an unbalanced way”, as well as threatening media mogul, “never took place”.
“I would not have known Rupert Murdoch’s phone number,” he added.
Mr Brown also claimed that Mr Murdoch would have liked the UK to be the 51st state of the United States and an independent Scotland the 52nd.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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Wind direction: North east