Gordon Brown refutes Rebekah Brooks's account of relationship with News International

Gordon Brown has denied that his wife Sarah gave consent to the Sun to run a 2006 story about their son suffering from cystic fibrosis, contesting the evidence given to the Leveson Inquiry by the paper’s then-editor Rebekah Brooks.

The former prime minister told the Leveson Inquiry this morning that there was “no question ever of explicit permission” given to the tabloid, denying Brooks’ claim that the Browns had given her permission to run the front-page story in November 2006, which revealed the couple’s four-month-old son was suffering from the disease.

Brown revealed he had received a letter of apology from the Fife health board, which stated it believed it was “highly likely” that there was unauthorised information given by a staff member that “allowed the Sun in end through this middleman to publish the story”.

Brooks told the Inquiry last month that the story came from a father of another child cystic fibrosis sufferer, and maintained she had the Browns’ express permission before publishing the story.

“If the Browns had asked me not to run cystic fibrosis story, I wouldn’t have,” she told the Inquiry.

But Brown said today that “no parent in the land…would have given explicit permission for this story”, claiming he and his family were presented with a “fait accompli” and had no choice over the story being published.

When asked by counsel Robert Jay QC why Sarah Brown arranged Brooks’s 40th birthday party in June 2008 and attended her wedding the following year, Brown said his wife was “one of the most forgiving people” and that she “finds the good in everyone”.

He also refuted claims made under oath to the Inquiry by News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch that Brown had “declared war” on the Sun during a 2009 conversation with the media mogul, following the tabloid switching its support to the Conservative party ahead of the 2010 general election.

“The conversation never took place,” Brown said, adding that there was “absolutely no evidence”, and that he felt it was “shocking” that the Inquiry had been told under oath that the conversation had occurred. He added that he was not surprised by the allegiance switch, believing it had been planned for “many, many months”.

He also made several digs at the tabloid for what he saw as sensationalised reporting of the war in Afghanistan, accusing its coverage of suggesting the Labour party “didn’t care about what was happening to our troops”. Brown said he still felt damage had been done to the war effort by such claims.

Discussing his dealings with media barons, Brown said he had a “duty” to engage with the press but that there was a “line in the sand” that he could not cross.

“You can serve dinner but don’t have to serve up BSkyB as part of that dinner,” he said, alluding to the recent storm over links between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and News Corp over the bid for the takeover of the satellite broadcaster.

During his time as prime minister from 2007 to 2010, Brown said he “rarely” read newspapers, quipping: “I’m so obsessed by the newspapers I rarely read them”.

Elsewhere in his morning of evidence, Brown stressed his concerns for the future of “quality journalism” at one point suggesting a BBC licence fee model ought to be looked at for funding journalism in the future.

The Inquiry continues this afternoon with evidence from chancellor George Osborne.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

"If the tone of newspapers had been different in the last 20 years, we'd have 30,000 fewer prisoners" – Ken Clarke tells Leveson

Twenty-first century politicians have been “obsessed” with newspapers, the Leveson Inquiry heard this afternoon.

“Politics is now a mass media-dominated activity”, justice secretary Ken Clarke said, arguing that the press was now far more powerful than parliament and that many were put off by politics due to the level of exposure.

Clarke singled out former prime minister Gordon Brown as having been “utterly obsessed” by his relations with the media, adding that it “didn’t do him any good at all”. He said Margaret Thatcher “never read a newspaper from one week to the next” and implored his colleagues to pay no attention to the papers if they were upset by their content.

During his calm and measured session at the Inquiry, Clarke said newspaper editors and proprietors “can drive a weak government like a flock of sheep before them” when lobbying on certain topics, and he slammed the idea of currying favour with the press as a “waste of time”.

The politics of the last 15 years had been “dominated” by competition for support from the Sun newspaper, he added. “I don’t think the Sun ever had a significant effect on any election in my lifetime, though it was obviously thought by some to be important.”

He said he held the “more jaundiced view” that the paper and its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, were “good at changing sides when it’s obvious the horse they’re riding is about to collapse”.

He described New Labour as having introduced a level of “control-freakery”, adding that he knew of one journalist who was barred from the Treasury and told she would not be let in again because of stories she had written.

On the topic of criminal justice legislation, Clarke pointed the finger at the popular press, emphasising that newspaper campaigns were often based on partial accounts of high-profile cases. “If the tone of newspapers had been different in the last 20 years, we’d have 30,000 fewer prisoners,”  he said, though he stressed this was not a “scientific” estimation.

He and Lord Justice Leveson discussed at length the future of press regulation, with Clarke admitting he was “deeply suspicious” of government control in a new system. Yet he added he did not have confidence in letting the press regulate itself, stressing that a regulator should be independent of both the industry and the government.

“I always thought PCC was a joke,” Clarke quipped. “I had some friends on it who tried to convince me otherwise. Completely useless.”

“I do think 99 per cent of people in this country genuinely believe in a free press,” he added, suggesting journalists were becoming “almost as sensitive as politicians” who thought no-one loved them anymore.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Rupert Murdoch: Brown "declared war" on News Corp

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has told the Leveson Inquiry that Labour leader Gordon Brown “declared war” on News Corp after the Sun moved to back the Conservatives in 2009.

Appearing before the inquiry today, Murdoch described a phone conversation between the pair, during which the veteran newspaper proprietor told the then Prime Minister that the newspaper would be backing a change of government in the next election.

Telling the court that he did not think Brown was in a “very balanced state of mind” during the call, Murdoch explained that the politician had called on the day of his party conference speech in 2009 after hearing about the paper’s altered political allegiance.

Murdoch said: “Mr Brown did call me and said ‘Rupert, do you know what’s going on here?’ I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well the Sun and what it’s doing.’ I said ‘I’m sorry to tell you Gordon, but we will support a change of government when there’s an election.’”

Despite suggestions from former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie that Brown “roared” at Murdoch for 20 minutes, Murdoch insisted that there were no raised voices during the conversation.

Describing his relationship with Brown to the court, Murdoch said: “My personal relationship with Brown was always warm — before he became Prime Minister and after. I regret that after the Sun came at him, that’s not so true but I only hope that can be repaired.”

But Murdoch added that Brown made a “totally outrageous statement” when he described News Corp as a “criminal organisation,” after alleging that his health records had been hacked.

“He said that we had hacked into his personal medical records when knew very well how the Sun had found out about his son which was very sad”, Murdoch told the court, who went on to explain that the story relating to Brown’s son’s Cystic Fibrosis had been obtained from a father in a similar situation.

To allegations that he traded favours with Tony Blair, Murdoch repeatedly denied the suggestion: “You are making inferences. I never asked Mr Blair for anything, and neither did I receive anything.”

The court heard that Murdoch was slow to endorse the Labour party in 1994, but he denied that that was part of a strategy to gauge commercial interests. Later in his testimony, somewhat losing his patience, Murdoch added to Robert Jay, QC: “I don’t know how many times I have to state to you Mr Jay, that I never let commercial considerations get in the way.”

After a 1994 dinner with Blair, Murdoch acknowledged that he may have said “He says all the right things but we’re not letting our pants down just yet”, but could not remember exactly.

Similarly, Murdoch did not recall speculating on the future of his relationship with Blair, when he reportedly said: “If our flirtation is ever consummated Tony we will make love like porcupines — very, very carefully.”

Turning to his relationship with David Cameron, Murdoch denied saying he “didn’t think much” of the Conservative party leader. He recalled meeting him at a family picnic at his daughter’s house, and was “extremely impressed by the kindness and feeling he showed to his children”.

When asked if he discussed issues such as broadcast regulation, BBC license fees or Ofcom, Murdoch denied the allegations. He said: “You keep inferring that endorsements were motivated by business motives. If that were the case we would always have supported the Tories, because they’re always more pro-business.”

Jay asked if he and Cameron discussed the appointment of ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson as spin doctor for the Conservative party. Murdoch explained to the court that he “was as surprised as everybody else” by the appointment.

Murdoch denied rumours that he hadn’t forgiven David Cameron for calling the inquiry, explaining that the state of media in the UK is of “absolutely vital interest to all it’s citizens”, and adding that he welcomed the opportunity to appear before the court because he “wanted to put certain myths to bed.”

The billionaire newspaper owner was also asked about his relationships with numerous other politicians, including Scottish politician Alex Salmond and former Prime Minister John Major. Murdoch also told the court that he “remained a great admirer” of Margaret Thatcher, but denied that he was “one of the main powers behind the Thatcher throne.”

Murdoch echoes his son James’ testimony, saying that relationships between the media and politicans were “part of the democratic process”. He added: “Politicians go out of their way to impress people in the press. All politicians of all sides like to have their views known by the editors and publishers of newspapers, hoping they will be put across, hoping they will succeed in impressing people. That’s the game.”

At the start of today’s hearing, Lord Justice Leveson responded to the furore relating to emails from Jeremy Hunt revealed during James Murdoch’s testimony to the court yesterday.

“I am acutely aware from considerable experience that documents such as these cannot always be taken at face value and can frequently bare more than one evaluation. I am not taking sides or expressing opinion but it is very important to hear every side of the story. In due course we will hear all relevant evidence from all relevant people.”

Rupert Murdoch’s evidence to the inquiry will continue at 10am tomorrow.

Follow Index’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry @IndexLeveson

Leaders' debate libel controversy

Former diplomat Craig Murray has revealed that polling company YouGov has accused him of libel.

Murray posted an article last week suggesting that YouGov had “rigged” a poll after last week’s UK election leaders’ debate in favour of Conservative leader David Cameron. The YouGov poll gave Cameron a clear lead over Labour’s Gordon Brown and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg. Other polls suggested a much tighter result.

Read Murray’s account here