It was a crucial part of the damage limitation exercise mounted by the Murdoch press as the phone hacking scandal was about to burst open back in 2011: Nick Davies, who had doggedly prised the lid off the previously secret can of worms that was industrial scale voicemail interception by the late and not at all lamented Screws, had co-authored an article claiming the Sun had improperly accessed Gordon Brown's son Fraser’s medical records.
Rebekah Brooks - Sun editor who went for Brown
The mafiosi were outraged. The information had come via entirely proper means, they had an affidavit, the Guardian had to apologise, and the Murdoch press, now high on its righteous horse, could crow that the whole hacking story had been duly discredited. Now, almost seven years on, that story is coming under renewed suspicion after the Sunday Times was nailed for having Brown’s bank records blagged - and deceiving over it.
John Ford - blagged for the Sunday Times
John Ford, who was retained by the ST for some years as a practised blagger, has gone on record to say it was him who blagged Brown’s financial details as the paper strove to smear the former PM over a flat he had bought. Worse, Davies had already figured that the ST had another blagger break into the same account as some kind of bizarre double-checking exercise. Worse, the ST and its editor stand accused of deception.
Ford’s assertion, reported by Byline Media, shows that when the ST claimed “The Sunday Times never broke into his bank account … On no occasion was Brown's ‘personal bank account’ accessed by The Sunday Times”, it was practising deceit verging on dishonesty. Ford was not on the paper’s books, so technically the paper did not break in to Brown’s account. But it had a chap to do that sort of thing on its behalf.
There was worse for the ST’s then editor: “In his statement to the Leveson Inquiry John Witherow stated that the man who had been arrested for suspected fraud was ‘separate’ to the Gordon Brown allegations”. He appears to have misled Leveson. Also, “At Leveson, Witherow defended the Gordon Brown bank blagging on the grounds of public interest”. But there was no public interest. It was just intrusion.
So if the ST deceived, what of this story ...
That much is bad enough. But one look at the Sun’s triumphalist tirade over the medical records shows why the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker might be getting nervous. Non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn observed “Mr Brown also accused The Sunday Times of breaking the law by getting someone to pose as him to access his bank account and legal files. The newspaper strenuously denied the allegations”.
... and the Sun employee who wrote it?
There was more. “The Sunday Times said: ‘We pursued this story in the public interest. We were told Mr Brown had bought a flat cheaper than any normal valuation and that he obtained it through a company in which Geoffrey Robinson, a close ally, had been a director … We had reasonable grounds to investigate this matter and followed the PCC Code on using subterfuge. We believe that no law was broken in the process of this investigation’”. Robinson was not a director when Brown bought the flat.
Now we know that the ST didn’t follow the PCC Code. And no-one has ever found the mystery “concerned parent” who conveniently tipped off the Sun. The ability of the Murdoch mafiosi to discredit both Brown and the Guardian at the same time was a classic of neatness. Whether it was too neat to be true may soon be discovered.