Brown says Murdoch papers used 'known criminals'
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday accused newspapers from Rupert Murdoch's media empire of using "known criminals" to hack into his personal information.
Brown said he was "in tears" after The Sun published details of his son's illness in 2006, adding that then-editor and now News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks had phoned him to say they were running the story.
News International, Murdoch's British newspaper division, strongly denied the claims, saying "no criminal was used" and insisting that a member of the public had given them the information about his son.
"I think what happened pretty early on in government was that the Sunday Times appear to have got access to my building society account, they got access to my legal files," Brown told the BBC.
"But I'm shocked, I'm genuinely shocked to find that this happened because of their links with criminals, known criminals who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators who were working with the Sunday Times."
Brown's dramatic intervention means that a scandal over phone hacking at the Murdoch-owned News of the World has widened to engulf two of the other three papers in News International, Murdoch's British stable.
Murdoch shut down the News of the World last week.
However, News International rejected Brown's allegations that the Sunday Times had used criminal means to obtain a story about a flat he bought, a story it insisted was pursued "in the public interest".
"We believe no law was broken in the process of this investigation, and contrary to Mr Browns assertion, no criminal was used and the story was published giving all sides a fair hearing," a spokeswoman said.
"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."
Brown, who was Labour prime minister from 2007 to 2010, and finance minister for a decade before then, also questioned how the The Sun was in 2006 able to obtain details revealing that his younger son Fraser had cystic fibrosis.
"I've never talked publicly about Fraser's condition. And obviously we wanted that to be kept private for all the obvious reasons," Brown said.
Asked how it affected him, Brown said: "In tears. Your son is being broadcast across the media. Sarah (his wife) and I are incredibly upset about it, we're thinking about his long-term future, we're thinking about our family."
When asked if Brooks had called him, he said: "We were told by The Sun and Rebekah Wade (her maiden name) at the time."
He added: "I can't think of any way that the medical condition of a child could be put into the public arena legitimately unless the doctor makes a statement or the family makes a statement."
News International later announced that it had conducted an internal inquiry into the allegations and insisted there was no evidence of illegal behaviour concerning The Sun's story.
"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," a statement said.
It said the story came from a member of the public whose family had experienced cystic fibrosis and who "wanted to highlight the cause of those afflicted by the disease".
The individual had signed an affidavit to that effect on Tuesday, it said.
"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," it said.
The Sun supported Brown's predecessor as Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, through the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections, but it switched to supporting the Conservatives in the 2010 election, when Brown lost office.
© 2011 AFP