News International has hit back at former prime minister Gordon Brown’s claims that journalists at The Sun and The Sunday Times “blagged” his financial, legal and medical information.
News International said that The Sun’s story about Gordon Brown’s son having cystic fibrosis, which ran in 2006, was obtained using information from a member of the public.
It said that no journalists from The Sun accessed the Brown family’s medical records, and did not commission anyone to do so.
A spokesperson insisted the story was pursued “in the public interest”, using the PCC code and insisted “no law was broken in the process of this investigation, and contrary to Mr Brown’s assertion, no criminal was used”.
The former prime minister said he and his wife Sarah Brown were “incredibly upset” when a story about their son Fraser’s cystic fibrosis appeared in The Sun in 2006.
We are able to assure the Brown family that we did not access the medical records of their son, nor did we commission anyone to do so. News International
Gordon Brown did not accuse The Sun of obtaining the information by hacking, but he did suggest in an interview with the BBC that The Sun’s parent company, News International, had questions to answer.
He added: “I can’t think of any way that the medical condition of a child can be put into the public arena legitimately unless the doctor makes a statement or the family makes a statement.”
However News International has now issued a statement refuting any suggestion that the records were obtained illegitimately.
A spokesperson said: “We are able to assure the Brown family that we did not access the medical records of their son, nor did we commission anyone to do so.”
News International statement
“Following allegations made yesterday by Gordon Brown against The Sun, we have been conducting an inquiry. This is in line with normal practice and procedure. We are able to assure the Brown family that we did not access the medical records of their son, nor did we commission anyone to do so.
“The story The Sun ran about their son 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. The individual has provided a written affidavit this afternoon to a lawyer confirming this.
“On receipt of the information, The Sun approached Mr Brown and discussed with his colleagues how best to present it. Those colleagues provided quotes which were used in the published piece which indicated his consent to it. We believe that the article was written sensitively and appropriately. We are not aware of Mr Brown, nor any of his colleagues to whom we spoke, making any complaint about it at the time.
“The publication of the story and the further responsible, sympathetic and informative coverage The Sun continued to give to the disease resulted in renewed interest for those affected by it. Donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust nearly doubled over the next year. We continue to inquire in to other allegations made by Mr Brown, and implore him to provide details to us so we can establish the facts.”
Mr Brown also suggested he had evidence that journalists from The Sun’s sister paper, The Sunday Times, accessed his legal and financial information using “blagging” to publish a story regarding a flat purchase.
But a spokesperson for The Sunday Times said: “We pursued this story in the public interest. We were told that Mr Brown had bought a flat cheaper than any normal valuation and that he obtained it through a company in which Geoffrey Robinson, a close ally, had been a director. We had reasonable grounds to investigate this matter and followed the PCC Code on using subterfuge.
“We believe no law was broken in the process of this investigation, and contrary to Mr Brown’s assertion, no criminal was used and the story was published giving all sides a fair hearing. We also note that Allen & Overy, the law firm, have denied they handed over any details about the purchase of the property and had nothing to do with it.”
The allegations are the latest twist in the ongoing phone-hacking scandal at News International.
The scandal has already claimed The News of the World, which closed on Sunday after 168 years, and delayed the bid of News International’s parent, News Corporation, to buy BSkyB.
Senior figures in the Met Police have been questioned again by MPs over their investigations into the scandal, and next week News Corporation’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and News International’s Rebekah Brooks may face a grilling from MPs.