GORDON BROWN – News International scandal
BBC News interview transcript
Tuesday 12th July 2011
Speakers: Gordon Brown
GC: Can you take me back and detail for me the instances where you believe your personal security has been breached?
GB: I think what happened pretty early on in government is that the Sunday Times appear to have got access to by building society account, they got access to my legal files, there is some question mark about what happened to other files, documentation, tax and everything else, but I’m shocked, I’m genuinely shocked to find that this happened because of the links with criminals, known criminals who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators who were working with the Sunday Times, and I just can’t understand this, if I, with all the protection and all the defences and all the security that a Chancellor of the Exchequer or a Prime Minister has is so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, unlawful tactics, to methods that have been used in the way that we’ve found, what about the ordinary citizen? What about the person like the family of Milly Dowler, who were in the most desperate of circumstances at the most difficult occasions in their lives, in huge grief, troubled, not knowing where to turn, and then they find as they have found over the last few days that they are totally defenceless in this moment of greatest grief, from people who are employing these ruthless tactics with links to know criminals,
GC: And that is where I want to take you to, you are saying, or alleging that news International have been involved in a criminal conspiracy with the underworld?
GB: I believe now from what I have seen and heard and what has been told to me by people who have investigated this and I’m looking at the evidence that has been accumulated by Nick Davis of the Guardian and the most brilliant of research, that the links that made possible the intrusion into people’s lives and particularly the intrusion into the lives of completely innocent citizens who deserve to have the privacy of their lives, particularly at times of the greatest grief, at the times when they are at the most vulnerable, that news International were using people who were known criminals people who had in some cases criminal records an that News International as a result were working through links that they had with the criminal underworld and I think when people find out that the invasion of their liberties, their private lives and their private grief’s and their private thoughts and their innermost feelings becoming public property as a result, not of a rogue reporter, or a chance investigator or someone saying something out of turn when they meet a friend at the street corner, or when they talk to someone on a bus, but because criminals were hired to do this particular work, and these were known criminals, these were criminals in some cases with records, in some cases with records of violence and these links have now got to be explored, and I find it quite incredible that the supposedly reputable organisation made its money, produced its commercial results at the expense of ordinary people by using known criminals and that is now what has got to be investigated.
GC: A very strong allegation, your building society wrote to you in 2000 about its concerns with News International and you being a targeted subject of hacking and blagging, you knew then in 2000 did you contact the police did you contact News International, who you had a good relationship with at the time.
GB: I don’t think I can ever say that I had a good relationship with News International. What actually happened was that News International were trying to prove a point and they were completely wrong and they were trying to suggest that I had bought a flat without nit ever being advertised and factually it had been advertised in the very newspaper that was making this allegation, the Sunday Times…
GC: So completely unfounded?
GB: Completely and utterly unfounded, nothing could be further from the truth, a flat that I bought that was advertised and I bought at the price that was going in the market place, but the Sunday Times wanted to allege, with the purposes of bringing me down as a government minister that I had bought in some underhand way. It now appears from what I now know as a result of investigations that have been done by other people and not myself, that they had hired someone who was breaking into my lawyers files, effectively by ‘blagging’ as they call it, talking to my lawyers, getting information out of them, that on 6 occasions they went to my building society and they asked for information and managed to get it out of people on the basis that I was phoning, I was asking for information about myself…
GC: Did you complain to the police?
GB: I complained at the time to the building society, I complained at the time through my lawyers to the Sunday Times, I wanted an apology from them about what happened, but I didn’t know at this time…
GC: Why didn’t you complain to the police?
GB: I did not know at this time that they had hired criminal elements to do this, I did not know at this time about the links with the criminal fraternity, I have only found out as a result of the investigations that have been done, particularly by the Guardian but by you and by many other people, I have only found out about the links between the Sunday Times and what I would call elements of the criminal underworld who were being paid, while known criminals, to do work that if you like was the most disgusting work, not against me only but against people who were completely defenceless…
GC: Hacking and blagging is illegal, do you wish you had complained to the police?
GB: I think the issue then was, who had done this, and the issue now is that we have got a huge amount of information that has been brought to me, even since I was in government that shows the link between the Sunday Times and known criminals, but equally the links between the News International organisation and known criminals and that is information I did not have at the time and it is information that I could not base any complaint upon because I had no idea about who was doing this.
GC: How receptive were News International, you obviously had the ability to pick up a phone and talk to people, senior executives there, what did they say when you said, what are you doing, why are you accessing my private information?
GB: Well when I talked to the editor off the Sunday Times and said that this was completely out of order, that the story was completely inaccurate, he distorted my conversation and actually used it in the Newspaper, there was no support going to come from the editor of the Sunday Times, in dealing with the indiscipline and the practices of his own reporters. So this was in culture in both the Sunday Times and in other Newspapers in News International where they really exploited people, people particularly, I’m not talking so much about me you know, I’m talking about people who were at rock bottom… and rock bottom was the rock upon which the Sunday Times founded their reputation and other Newspapers in News International founded their reputation for purely commercial gain and in some cases to abuse political power.
GC: A question I have to ask, you’ve said that and made those allegations, but during your time in government, both as Chancellor and Prime Minister you courted News International, is it true to say that you had to court them because they were so important they were vote winners for you and isn’t this at the very heart of what has gone wrong here?
GB: When the record of my time as Prime Minister is looked at and all the papers will be there for people to see they will show that we stood up to News International, that we refused to support their commercial ambitions when we thought they were against the public interest, that we did not allow them to take decisions or allow them to pursue actions which were purely in their commercial interests but against the public interest and I think people will find it is partly because we stood up to News International and partly because we refused to go along with some of their commercial proposals that were purely in the interest of their company that News International did not find that they could support the Labour Party at the last election.
GC: Can you give me three instances where Rupert Murdoch or News International tried to influence you on decision-making or you felt that pressure was being put on you whilst you were in public office?
GB: I think it will be pretty clear when the record is examined that News International had an agenda about the BBC, an agenda to neuter Ofcom, the regulatory organisation, and they had an agenda also in relation to the pursuit of their own commercial interest. On each of these three issues News International made proposals, they made propositions, they had policies. We refused to go along with them.
GC: Do you believe that your unwillingness to cooperate is why they didn’t support you at the last general election?
GB: I think when you look at the record – and people will have to look at the record – they will understand that News International pursued an incredibly aggressive agenda in the last year. They are entitled, of course, to have their own views about the politics of this country. I think when people look at the record they will find evidence of how News International was distorting the news in a way that was designed to pursue a particular political cause. In other words, you can complain about how News International abuse their power for commercial gain, and all these press awards they were winning for stories that we now find out were stories that were not achieved in the most clean of ways is one thing. But, of course, the abuse of their power for political gain is going to have to be looked at. Any inquiry that’s going to be set up is going to have to look at how News International attempted to abuse political power for political gain.
GC: We talked about bank records, your bank records being invaded. We’ve talked about your lawyers. Medical records is another instance. Tell me about that.
GB: I have never, never talked about by son or wanted to talk about my two sons or my late daughter in public. I have always been very reluctant to bring them into the political arena. I never thought that it was right that the private lives of young children who are growing up, who I want to have an ordinary life, should be paraded across the media. I have always sought to keep them from the glare of publicity and I think the record will show that’s exactly what I did at Downing Street, despite people wanting to have all sorts of stories about their private life and their families’ private life. So I have never talked about my son’s medical condition before. I have never talked publicly about my son’s medical condition.
GC: But we are at a point where it is very relevant, aren’t we?
GB: I’ve never talked about it. I’m not sure whether even at this stage I want my son to be able to go the internet when he’s six or seven and find all these stories that have been written about him. I think that the invasion of privacy of young people and young children is a big issue.
GC: How do you think that your son Fraser’s medical condition for cystic fibrosis was leaked out?
GB: I have never talked publicly about Fraser’s condition. Obviously we wanted that to be kept private for all the obvious reasons. As a parent you want to do the best by your children and I’ve never complained about what happened to me before. The truth is that information did come out. I was approached by the Sun newspaper. They told me they had this story about Fraser’s medical condition and that they were going to run this story.
GC: How did that affect you, as a father?
GB: In tears, your son is now going to be broadcast across the media, your, Sarah and I were incredibly upset about it, we were thinking about his long term future, we are thinking about our family but there is nothing you can do about it, you are in public life and this story appears, you don’t know how it has appeared, 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.
GC: It was Rebekah Brooks who phoned, am I right?
GB: We were told by the Sun and Rebekah Wade at the time, Rebekah Brooks now, the problem that I have is that if this is the policy of newspapers in this country that they are going to write about the medical conditions of young children, then you have got to ask yourself, where are they getting this information from. I have never made any claims. I am not making any claims today. I have never wanted to talk about it. I have never raised it in the public arena. I don’t really want these matters to be public matters that are about the private life of a young child.
GC: The Sun say they got it legitimately. They say they got that information legitimately.
GB: They will have to explain themselves. I can’t think of any way in which 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. They will have to explain themselves, The issue for me is this. I have never wanted to talk about my son’s medical condition. I have never wanted to raise questions about it. It is in the public arena now. I make no claims but the fact of the matter is that I have my bank accounts broken into. I have my lawyers’ files effectively blagged, with someone getting information from my lawyers. My tax returns went missing at one point. Medical records have been broken into. I don’t know how all of this happened. But I do know that in two of these instances, there is absolute proof that News International was involved in hiring people to get this information. I do know also that the people that they work with, because this is what really concerns me most, is that the people they work with are criminals, known criminals, criminals with records, criminals who sometimes have records of violence as well as records of fraud. These links with the criminal underworld mean that there is nothing that a serious organisation can say when it is alleged that they are using underhand tactics by criminal elements. And people will rightly say, how can a reputable news organisation run their affairs by using known criminals to carry out much of their work.
GC: You and your wife, Sarah, both went to Rebekah Brooks’s wedding and now you are here criticising News International and making allegations regarding their activities against you and your wife. Is this a case of now that you are out of office you don’t need them anymore?
GB: It’s a case of me not knowing until now and until the evidence had been brought to me by work that has been done by investigative journalists telling me what actually was happening. As I said, I have not talked about these things. I now have been given information. The police are obviously looking at some of the information about how this came out, how these things were done, how my bank accounts, my legal affairs, my property affairs and all that could become public property for no other reason that a newspaper wanted to make some commercial gain or abuse political power in doing so. Now I know that to be the case, it’s clear that there were issues that have got to be raised. I did not know the level criminality involved until now.
GC: Last Friday, David Cameron stood up in the House of Commons and he effectively laid the responsibility at your doorstep. He said Labour and you as prime minister had not done enough to combat or investigate phone hacking as it started to emerge. How do you react to that?
GB: I think that’s completely wrong. I think the record will show – and perhaps it’s something I’ve got to talk about later – is that not only did we stand up against the commercial ambitions of News International and make it clear that the public interest was to dominate how we made decisions in government, no matter what they said, no matter what they wanted, but also at the same time we were also very clear that if allegations of wrong-doing were proven, action should be taken. I think the record will show that against the advice of the police, against the advice of the Home Office, against the advice of the Cabinet Office, against the advice in a way of the Select Committee who hadn’t asked for it, I wanted a judicial inquiry some months ago before I left office into the workings of News International.
GC: Did you at all contact Gus O’Donnell or anyone asking for a public inquiry? What action did you take proactively to try and investigate?
GB: I think the record will show that once the Select Committee had reported it was very clear to me that there were questions that were unanswered. They talked about the deliberate obfuscation of News International. They talked about the number of people being far greater than the number of people being named. They talked about all these issues but they haven’t been able to reach a conclusion. I came to the conclusion that the evidence was now becoming so overwhelming about the underhand tactics of News International. I didn’t know about all the illegality at that time, but the underhand tactics of News International, using these private investigators to trawl into people’s private lives particularly people who were completely innocent, completely defenceless, that we had to have a judicial inquiry. That was my view At the time however, there were very few people who accepted that this was the right thing to do.
GC: How big a scandal is this for our political system, our media and the lives of normal people?
GB: My view is that there comes in different times big questions that have got to be confronted by the public and by the political system of our country and it’s pretty clear to me that not only are people utterly defenceless against some of the tactics that have been used by the some of newspapers that are linked to the News International stable and perhaps wider, but also that the level of criminality, which is going to be exposed, meant that there were links between that newspaper and that groups of newspapers and well-known criminals in this country. If that is case, then we have a duty to clear this up entirely. I tried in government to do the best that I could to have totally clean relationship with these papers. No private deals, nothing. Equally at this time I tried to secure a judicial inquiry. I think the record will show that lots of people were very keen that that did not happen. But at the end of the day, we now have a choice to make. Do we have a system in this country where we can uphold the freedom of the press - and I’ve never at any stage during the course of my political career do anything other than champion the right of the press to expose wrong-doing where they find and to speak truth to power, which is what a free press ought to be able to do - but there are some serious questions that the press have now got to answer and there are some serious considerations that we have got to have about the protection of individual members of public in this country, not politicians. The protection of defenceless citizens who at their moments of greatest grief their private feelings and their private tears are intruded upon by huge over-bearing news organisations. It is right that we take action to deal with these problems.
GC: Is it also a time to focus on the relations between politicians and the senior executives at newspapers, especially News International. I have heard stories that Rupert Murdoch turned up at Chequers whilst you were there uninvited, trying to see you, trying to get a conversation with you.
GB: Not true.
GC: I’ve heard a story that while you and your wife were up in Scotland attending a funeral for oilrig workers in a tragic accident, a text was sent from Rebekah Brooks suggesting that you may want to get rid of one of your junior defence ministers.
GB: I think the record will show that some people at News International abused their power. There’s no doubt about that.
GC: Is it true, that last one?
GB: I don’t want to get into individual instances that affect what was said to Sarah, my wife. It’s up to her to say …
GC: But is it true?
GB: I leave it up to her to say anything about these texts that relate to her. The issue for me, the issue we’ve got to focus on…
GC: Did that take place Mr Brown, could you just answer that?
GB: You are asking something that affects Sarah, not me directly.
GC: So she did receive a text?
GB: Sarah would have to answer for this herself, because basically this is about information between two people that was communicated by text if your story is accurate, but it’s not for me to answer for something that happened there.
GC: They were putting pressure on you. They were trying to influence policy, is that correct?
GB: There’s absolutely no doubt that News International were trying to influence policy. There editorials show that they are publicly wanting influence policy. Of course they use channels to do this. This is an issue, and it will become an issue, about the abuse of political power as well as the abuse of civil liberties and I think people will look askance at the British system of government and the way we pride ourselves on the democracy of our country and the civil liberties we guarantee to every individual and the transparency of our political system. And yet at the same time there are these influences working in our political system that have to be brought under democratic scrutiny.