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11 July 2011

News International scandal spreads to the Sunday Times

According to the latest allegations, the newspaper fraudulently accessed Gordon Brown's bank details

By Samira Shackle

Explosive new allegations suggest that journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s News International targeted Gordon Brown’s bank details as well as his family’s medical records.

A Guardian investigation has found evidence not only that his phone may have been hacked, but of repeated attempts to access his legal, financial, tax, medical and police records. Significantly, these are tied not just to the News of the World but to other papers within News International.

Brown had already been told by Scotland Yard that his phone could have been hacked. This evidence is believed to be handwritten notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator implicated in phone-hacking at the News of the World.

According to the Guardian‘s latest report, however, an internal inquiry by Abbey National’s fraud department found that in January 2000, somebody acting on behalf of the Sunday Times contacted their Bradford call centre six times, posing as Brown. The imposter managed to obtain details from his account.

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Abbey National’s senior lawyer sent a summary of their findings to the newspaper’s editor, John Witherow, stating:

On the basis of these facts and inquiries, I am drawn to the conclusion that someone from the Sunday Times or acting on its behalf has masqueraded as Mr Brown for the purpose of obtaining information from Abbey National by deception.

Moreover, details from Brown’s son Fraser’s medical records were reportedly obtained by the Sun, who published a story in 2006 about the child’s cystic fibrosis. He was four months old at the time and the condition had just been diagnosed. The Sun denies any wrong-doing and claims that the information was obtained legitimately.

In fairness, not all of the assaults on Brown’s privacy listed by the Guardian are tied to News International (all of the allegations are detailed here). His tax paperwork was stolen from the office of his accountants, Auberbach Hope, in 1998, but it is unclear which media organisation was responsible.

But if proved to be true, these latest allegations are hugely damaging. Not only do they widen the offences from phone-hacking and paying off police to fraud and breaking data protection laws, but — crucially — they embroil other newspapers in the News International stable.

Over at Channel 4, Gary Gibbon suggests one potential effect of this:

It spreads the allegations to another part of the Murdoch UK stable and will add to speculation, rampant around News International, that the Murdochs may be considering selling off all of News International in order to look after the rest of their empire and not see the whole thing go up in flames.

Ending the life of the News of the World has clearly not been successful in killing the scandal at NewsCorp.