Political Promise

What was Gordon Brown’s role in phone hacking?

In Allie Wickham on July 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Since last May, Gordon Brown has become a hidden figure around Parliament. In the week he broke his silence on phone hacking, Allie Wickham has uncovered the truth about Gordon Brown’s role in the saga.

And so the News International phone hacking scandal rumbles on. This morning, the Guardian’s front page splash concerns allegations that the Sun newspaper illegally obtained the medical records of Gordon Brown’s son. The nefarious activities of NI journalists, it is claimed, allowed the Sun to reveal that Fraser Brown had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, just days after his parents had found out themselves. Mr. Brown has been doing the rounds at the BBC and Sky News today, telling of how he was ‘in tears’ when he was informed by its then editor Rebekah Brooks that the Sun was running the story. Yet careful observers will note something quite different about the Brown story. As much as the deletion of Milly Dowler’s phone messages should be abhorred, it is crucial to take a step back and ask: can we trust Gordon Brown?

First we must look at the evidence available. The Guardian has been credited with the scoop of the year on phone hacking, and has led the way on this story with some good old-fashioned investigative journalism. Nevertheless, its standards have dropped sharply with the cystic fibrosis revelation. This morning, Nick Davies wrote:

‘In October 2006, the then editor of the Sun, Rebekah Brooks, contacted the Browns to tell them that they had obtained details from the medical file of their four-month-old son, Fraser, which revealed his cystic fibrosis.’

The section in bold can be shown to be untrue. It contradicts a statement given since by Mr. Brown in which he says he does not know where the Sun had received its information; if Mrs. Brooks had told him she had seen Fraser’s medical file, Mr. Brown would have his answer. Patently, Mrs. Brooks said nothing about a medical file during the conversation. Thus, the Guardian has got that wrong.

In almost every other story concerning phone hacking, the Guardian has offered some sort of evidence – an email, a police source – to justify the claim it has been making. Yet the cystic fibrosis claim is repeated several times in Mr. Davies’ article, without any reference to how he has come by this information. Indeed, Mr. Brown himself said today:

‘I’ve not questioned how it appeared, I’ve not made any allegations about how it appeared, I’ve not made any claims about how it appeared, but the fact is it did appear and it did appear in the Sun newspaper.’

Clearly wary of the lack of evidence available to substantiate the claims made in the Guardian, Mr. Brown has covered his own back. If even he isn’t sure about the accuracy of the story, surely we should be questioning it a bit more thoroughly?

The next key point to consider is NI’s response to the story. Its answer to the Milly Dowler claims, as well as the allegations concerning bereaved families of servicemen and those killed in the 7/7 bombings has been pretty much identical; something along the lines of ‘these allegations are terrible and we are investigating them’. Yet its tone on the cystic fibrosis story is markedly different. NI has effectively issued an outright denial, describing itself as being ‘comfortable’ that it obtained the story in a proper manner. There are two implications here. First, that the Dowler, bereaved families and 7/7 stories are probably true as they have not been denied by NI. Second, that the cystic fibrosis allegation is probably false, as why on earth would NI deny this story and not the others?

On reflection, the lack of evidence provided by the Guardian and the forthright response by NI raises suspicions over whether journalists from the Sun actually did illegally obtain Fraser Brown’s medical records. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story comes from Mr. Brown’s television interviews this week. The former Prime Minister said that, after being told by Mrs. Brooks that the Sun would be running the story, he was ‘in tears’ and that he and his wife Sarah were left ‘incredibly upset’. Most people would feel complete and utter disdain towards a newspaper editor that ran such a sensitive story about one’s child.

Mr. Brown? He attended Mrs. Brooks wedding three years later.

  1. It’s fair enough for the Guardian to investigate phone hacking, but here they have clearly crossed the line into lies. I suppose there will be an apology by them tomorrow? Or not.

  2. Hang on a sec. Gordon Brown is clearly saying he doesn’t know HOW the story got out. You assert that Gordon Brown said he didn’t know WHERE the Sun had got its information, but this is simply a narrow interpretation of the use of the word ‘where’ – and it is not backed up by a quote: in other words, the same sort of inaccuracy & sloppiness you’re accusing the Guardian of. You then go on to assume that, since the ‘where’ must be Fraser’s medical file, and Gordon didn’t mention it, that ‘patently’ Rebekah Brooks didn’t mention it in her phone call to Mr Brown. It’s not ‘patent’ at all. The Sun’s source might have been a doctor or hospital employee with access to Fraser’s records. (It might as easily have been someone else at the hospital – another patient, perhaps – or someone in the Brown’s circle of family or friends, without access to medical records, someone who’d simply heard about it via gossip.) But if it had been someone with access, and Rebekah Brooks said so during her phone call (ie as per the Guardian’s account), she’d have been very unlikely to offer further details, such as who or how or when. It’s also entirely plausible that an editor might SAY they’d got details from the file as cover for where they’d really got them – eg from a friend or relation. And in those circumstances, the victim of the story might well say, ” I don’t know where they got their information,” meaning ‘by what means’, or ‘via whom’, not literally WHERE. He doesn’t know who blabbed, he probably doesn’t know if the info came from the records or not, and if Ms Brooks told him it did he probably doesn’t know whether to believe her or not. You are simply not entitled to assume from such a statement that Mr Brown is lying or dissembling, that’s just poor journalism.

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