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LONDON: Former British prime minister Gordon Brown yesterday accused media tycoon Rupert Murdoch of misleading a government-sponsored inquiry into press ethics with incorrect testimony alleging Brown had threatened war against Murdoch’s company.
“This conversation never took place. I am shocked and surprised that it should be suggested,” Brown told the Leveson inquiry. “This call did not happen. The threat was not made.
“There is no evidence that it happened other than Mr Murdoch’s, but it didn’t happen,” said Brown.
Murdoch had told the inquiry under oath that Brown had phoned him in September 2009 after the Sun newspaper started supporting the Conservative Party. Brown vowed to wage war on Murdoch’s company in revenge, he testified. “We were talking more quietly than you or I are now. He said: ‘Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company’,” Murdoch told the inquiry in April.
When pressed on how a serving prime minister could make such a threat, Murdoch told the inquiry: “I don’t think he was in a very balanced state of mind.”
Brown, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2010, said Murdoch was wrong about both the date and the contents of the phone call. And statements submitted to a media watchdog by five of Brown’s advisers show none of the five heard Brown threaten Murdoch on the call.
Aides to Brown, including his special adviser, director of strategy and deputy chief of staff, said in statements submitted to the Press Complaints Commission last year that Brown made no such threat on the call, which took place in November, not September as Murdoch had said. “I listened to the phone call between Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch in November 2009,” Stewart Wood, special adviser to the prime minister’s office, said in a statement dated October 2011. “At no point in the conversation was threatening language of any sort used by either Mr Brown or Mr Murdoch.”
In one of the other corroborating statements, lawmaker Michael Dugher wrote: “At no time did Mr Brown threaten the position of News International. Both Mr Brown and Mr Murdoch were entirely courteous and calm.”
A former British leader accusing Murdoch of misleading the inquiry would further tarnish the reputation of the world’s most powerful media tycoon in a country which is home to some of his biggest newspaper and broadcasting interests.
Brown also challenged a version of events given by Murdoch’s deputy, Rebekah Brooks, about a Sun report that Brown’s four-month-old son Fraser had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Brooks, a close Murdoch confidante who was charged last month with interfering with a police investigation into the phone hacking scandal, told the inquiry that the Browns had given their backing to the story.
“I have never sought to bring my children into the public domain,” Brown said. He denied his consent had been given to publish the story. “I find it sad that even now, in 2012, members of the News International staff are coming to this inquiry and maintaining this fiction.” – Reuters