The chief executive of publisher News International and a former editor of the British tabloid News of the World, Rebekah Brooks.
The chief executive of publisher News International and a former editor of the British tabloid News of the World, Rebekah Brooks.

New Murdoch furore

By JAMES CHAPMAN, Political Editor Time of article published Jul 12, 2011

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London - Gordon Brown’s sick son, the Queen and Prince Charles were sensationally identified on Monday night as targets of “institutional criminality” at Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

The former prime minister was subject to unlawful attempts to access his voicemail and obtain information from his bank account and his family’s medical records, it was claimed.

Brown believes details of his infant son Fraser’s medical records were obtained by The Sun, which went on to publish a story revealing he had cystic fibrosis.

Another of Murdoch’s newspapers - the Sunday Times - was dragged into the affair as it was claimed a “blagger” acting for the title posed as Brown and gained details from his account at the Abbey National.

The former prime minister’s wife Sarah said it was “so sad to learn all I am about my family’s privacy”, adding: “It is very personal and really hurtful, if all true.”

It also emerged that police have warned Buckingham Palace they have found evidence that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall may have had their voicemail messages tapped into by the News of the World.

Prince Charles and his wife are among at least 10 royals who have now been warned they were targeted by hackers.

And in further claims, royal protection officers were also alleged to have sold confidential information about the queen, Prince Philip and royal staff to the News of the World.

In another extraordinary day for the scandal rocking the police and the political and media establishments:

* Murdoch’s attempt to take over broadcaster BSkyB was finally referred to the Competition Commission as David Cameron suggested he should shelve the bid;

* Police effectively accused News International of attempting to undermine its inquiry into alleged corruption of police officers by journalists through the leaking of information;

* Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates was accused of “repeatedly lying” to Parliament over the affair and faced calls to resign;

* The parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was allegedly hacked, called on News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to resign; and

* Speculation mounted that Murdoch might be forced to sell his remaining newspaper titles - The Sun, Times, and Sunday Times - having already closed the News of the World.

It was alleged that Brown had been the target of private investigators acting for News International both as chancellor and later as prime minister.

References to Brown and his wife were said to have been found by Scotland Yard in paperwork seized from Glenn Mulcaire, an investigator accused of serially hacking into phone messages for the News of the World.

An inquiry by the fraud department at Abbey National was said to have concluded that in 2000, somebody posing as Brown - and allegedly acting for the Sunday Times - succeeded in obtaining details of his account.

The Sunday Times was also accused of using Barry Beardell, an investigator later jailed for fraud, to obtain details about the sale of Brown’s flat from lawyers by posing as an interested accountant. Most distressingly, in 2006, Mrs Brooks, then editor of The Sun, is understood to have contacted the Browns to tell them the newspaper had obtained information about the poor health of their son.

Fraser, then four months old, was being treated for cystic fibrosis, though the information was known only to a small number of family members and medics.

The call is understood to have caused Brown and his wife deep distress, since they were only just coming to terms with the diagnosis.

David Muir, one of Brown’s former aides, said the couple “didn’t know how Rebekah came across this information”, adding it appeared to have been “obtained by what could be illegal methods”.

Accessing medical records would be a breach of the Data Protection Act, which allows disclosures only in the public interest.News International is understood to be confident, however, that information about Fraser’s illness came from legitimate sources.

Brown and his wife, like most senior politicians, went out of their way to court the Murdoch empire, but the relationship soured after The Sun abandoned its support for Labour.

A spokesman for Mr Brown said: “Gordon Brown has now been informed of the scale of intrusion into his family’s life.

“The family has been shocked by the level of criminality and the unethical means by which personal details have been obtained. The matter is in police hands.”

Tom Watson, a former Labour minister and close ally of Brown, who has led the campaign to expose phone hacking, told Parliament yesterday there had been “institutional criminality” at News International. - Daily Mail

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