David Blunkett 'secretly accepted pay-off'

Former Home Secretary's 'substantial' cash award followed phone-hacking.

The former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has accepted a "substantial" pay-off in a secret deal after his mobile phone was hacked by the News of the World. Mr Blunkett came to the agreement in May, soon after News International reached a similar agreement with the actress Sienna Miller, for the hacking of his phone when he was at the Home Office, between 2001 and 2004.

Mr Blunkett was forced to resign as Home Secretary after the News of the World revealed he was having an affair with a married woman, Kimberly Fortier, amid suggestions that he had used his position to speed up a visa application for her nanny.

It has long been rumoured that Blunkett was targeted during his time as Home Secretary, a position which brings particular concerns about privacy and security, but nothing has been admitted. In March last year, Gordon Brown asked his cabinet secretary, Gus O'Donnell, to look into the possibility of launching a judicial inquiry into phone-hacking. One reason given for discouraging the idea was the scant likelihood of finding more evidence than the police had.

Since the 2010 election, Labour MPs have been more willing to go public with their concerns about possible breaches of privacy, but Mr Blunkett, a former News of the World columnist and friend of the former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks, has kept a notably low profile.

His fellow Labour MP Tom Watson said yesterday: "It is extremely disappointing that David Blunkett, as both an MP and a former home secretary, would choose to do a secret deal rather than give comfort to victims who don't have his power to come forward at the time Parliament was chipping away at this scandal.

"His testimony would have been helpful in shedding light on the company's attempts to keep the lid on it all. Rather than fulfilling a public duty to speak out, it makes you wonder why he would do it like this. I would definitely like to know when Mr Blunkett was aware that he might have been a victim of hacking as his evidence would have been very useful."

It has been reported but not confirmed that Blunkett first became aware that his phone had been targeted five years ago.

Mr Blunkett's spokesman said yesterday: "Mr Blunkett was the subject of intrusion into his private life throughout 2004-05 and gross damage to his family and immediate friends. Since then he's endeavoured to protect his private life as he was the victim, not the perpetrator, of such intrusion.

"Any relationship to what happened in 2004-5 is a matter for the police investigation, and of course everyone with anything to contribute is expected to provide maximum cooperation. Mr Blunkett has commented on matters relating to the continuing inquiries but at no time about himself or his family, and he does not intend to do so now."

Tom Watson expressed concern about the constitutional propriety of Blunkett's position. "I'm not sure it should be in his gift to close down public scrutiny of private eavesdropping on the Home Secretary," he said. "I know he says he's helping the Leveson inquiry in what they are doing, but, if correct, he agreed this deal in the late spring before the Leveson inquiry was established."

Last night News International declined to comment.

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