Ex-Cabinet members challenge Brown's judicial inquiry claim

Former members of Gordon Brown's Cabinet yesterday questioned his claim that he wanted to launch a judicial inquiry into phone-hacking while he was prime minister.

And Mr Brown's claim that his proposal was blocked by the civil service was rejected by Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, who argued that he could have overruled his advice.

As the former prime minister sought to rebuff Tory claims that his government had failed to stand up to Rupert Murdoch's empire, he told MPs on Wednesday that he had tried to launch a public inquiry in February last year. Mr Brown said: "It was opposed by the police, opposed by the Home Office and opposed by the civil service and it was not supported by the [Culture] Select Committee."

Some Labour Cabinet members have a different recollection of events. They claimed the idea of an inquiry was never a formal proposal discussed inside Downing Street or by ministers. "If it was a proposal, it was one by Gordon to himself," one minister said.

Another said the idea never got past first base because a hacking inquiry would have looked like a "revenge attack" on News International after The Sun deserted Labour and switched its support to the Conservatives the previous September.

"It would have backfired on us badly. It would have been seen as nakedly party political on the eve of a general election," the ex-minister said. Former Cabinet members said it was Mr Brown's decision not to pursue the inquiry. "He could have driven it through the machine if he had really wanted it; he was the prime minister after all," one said.

Sir Gus took the unusual step of releasing the memorandum he submitted to Mr Brown last March. In it he concluded it was "doubtful" an investigation was justified under the Inquiries Act 2005 and could have been challenged in a judicial review – especially if it covered the media in general.

A tighter remit covering only the News of the World "could be deemed to be politically motivated" in the run-up to an election, the memo said.

Sir Gus did not mention that Andy Coulson, the Conservative Party's director of communications at the time, had resigned as News of the World editor over the initial hacking revelations in 2007

The "restricted" document reflected the findings of the Culture Select Committee, saying its report was "essentially concerned with a localised issue involving the actions of a small number of people within NOTW. Does that really amount to a matter of public concern justifying a public inquiry?

"It is questionable whether a public inquiry would be likely to uncover more evidence than the police and the committee were able to do bearing in mind the events in question occurred in 2005-07. Any documentary evidence may no longer exist."

The Cabinet Office said yesterday: "The advice was requested by the prime minister. Decisions on whether or not to hold a public inquiry, and on its scope and nature, are always the decisions of a minister."

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, accused Mr Brown of rewriting history: "If as prime minister he'd really been so determined to get to grips with this – and he was a powerful Chancellor – he was at the apex of British politics for 13 years. Are we now supposed to believe he was hamstrung by dastardly officials?

"There were many other things he wanted to do where he was happy to bulldoze the opposition but he didn't seek to do so on this particular issue."

Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Business, Marketing and Tourism Volunteer Projects

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: As part of an ongoing effort to support local...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal