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."

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
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 apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried