The Sun newspaper says it obtained a story about former prime minister Gordon Brown’s son having cystic fibrosis legitimately, as it fights to avoid getting drawn into the phone-hacking scandal.
The newspaper said its 2006 story that Gordon Brown’s son had cystic fibrosis came from a member of the public rather than from medical records.
In The Sun today, the man who says he gave the story to the paper said he had “no regrets” and that he leaked the story to raise awareness of the disease.
The Sun is fighting back after it became the latest News International publication to be caught up in the phone-hacking scandal when the former prime minister said on Monday he could not think of any legitimate means by which the paper could have got hold of details of his son’s medical condition.
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In an interview with the BBC, Mr Brown said he and his wife were “in tears” when they were contacted about the story by The Sun’s then-editor, Rebekah Brooks.
He added: “Sarah and I were incredibly upset about it… 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.”
But in a statement on Tuesday News International 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.” Read the full News International statement here.
The company also denied other allegations made by Mr Brown regarding how journalists at The Sunday Times obtained his legal and financial information.
The Sun has also published a video interview with the man who gave them the story in 2006 (watch the video below). The paper is protecting his identity.
The man, whose child also suffers from cystic fibrosis, is said to have links with the Brown family. He told The Sun he felt “something positive” could come out of the “tragedy”, and stressed that he had had no access to the family’s medical records.
However, Ed Owen, a former Government adviser whose child has cystic fibrosis, told Channel 4 News the decision to raise awareness in this way was the Browns’ decision alone.
“In my case I did some fundraising in 2004 when my daughter was one, and I did use her – use is the right word actually – but of course it was a big dilemma. But in truth to raise awareness it is sometimes very important to have that personal story,” he said.
But Mr Owen, who is now a partner at consultancy Maitland Political and a board member of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said he had not used his daughter in this way since as she got older.
“For me, at an early age it was ok but now I am less comfortable about it. The key point is that it has to be an individual decision,” he said.
“So while I understand the comments from the guy speaking to The Sun, and his desire to raise awareness, I don’t think that’s a justification for imposing that on others. However famous or non famous you are, it’s a personal judgement – that’s the same if you are in Number 10 or wherever.”
The Sun has also defended its story by pointing out that Mr Brown and his wife Sarah gave senior staff at the paper consent to publish the article.
It said that despite Gordon Brown’s assertion that the couple were upset by the story, they continued to socialise with senior staff at The Sun and parent company News International after it was printed.
It printed pictures of News International owner Rupert Murdoch and Mr Brown standing smiling side by side after the story came out, and a similar picture of Sarah Brown with Rebekah Brooks.