Former Cabinet minister suspects phone was bugged

Former Cabinet member Nick Brown today became the latest senior politician to claim that his telephone had been tapped.

Unlike other complaints involving illegal eavesdropping on mobile phone voicemail messages, Labour's former chief whip said that it appeared his landline was bugged with a recording device.

And he said police had also warned on a separate occasion that his mobile phone might have been illegally accessed.

Mr Brown's comments came as Scotland Yard revived its inquiry into allegations of phone-hacking by journalists at the News of the World, with Metropolitan Police Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin promising to leave "no stone unturned".

Mr Brown's former Cabinet colleague Tessa Jowell yesterday called in police after being warned by her phone provider of a failed attempt to access her voicemail as recently as last week.

Speaking to Newcastle's Journal newspaper, Mr Brown revealed he became suspicious that his phone had been bugged following a conversation with an "important" person several years ago.

"I picked up a landline telephone very quickly ... to make another call straight away," said the Newcastle East MP.

"And the line clicked and then I heard my last conversation played back to me, which was quite eerie.

"I got on to British Telecom straight away ... They said the line showed every signs of having been intercepted manually, not through scanners. It was an amateurish attempt involving the physical intervention of the line with a recording device."

Mr Brown said that on another occasion, he was contacted by a police force in the West Country, who told him they were pursuing a phone-tapping prosecution and he was one of those who may have been targeted.

Although the case reached court, the judge's rulings meant the prosecution did not go ahead, and Mr Brown was not told full details of the allegations.

"Given that it was near Highgrove, my assumption was that this might involve the Royal Family. But I was never explicitly told that," he said.

Asked if he had spoken again to police, he said: "It seems to me once the court says the court cannot proceed, I am not quite sure what there is left to do."

The Metropolitan Police and the News of the World have come under increasing pressure over recent days, with new allegations of phone-hacking relating to actress Leslie Ash and her footballer husband Lee Chapman, as well as interior designer Kelly Hoppen.

Ian Edmondson, the newspaper's head of news, was sacked two days ago after evidence emerged that he was linked to the hacking of mobile phones belonging to high-profile individuals.

He had been named in documents lodged on behalf of Ms Hoppen's stepdaughter, the actress Sienna Miller, as part of a civil case.

The Met inquiry was reopened after detectives were handed information uncovered earlier this week during an internal inquiry at the News of the World, including a trawl of emails held on company servers.

The new probe is the most significant development in the controversy since the Sunday tabloid's royal editor was imprisoned almost exactly four years ago in 2007.

Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed at the Old Bailey after they admitted intercepting messages by using industry codes to access voicemails.

Mr Godwin yesterday vigorously defended keeping the case closed for four years, saying it was reopened in the light of "highly significant" new information passed to police by the newspaper.

He told the Metropolitan Police Authority the inquiry would "restore confidence" among alleged victims of the scandal who feel police should have acted more quickly.

The police inquiry will be led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, an expert in organised crime who helped Helen Mirren research her role as a senior woman detective in the TV drama Prime Suspect.

A team of lawyers, led by Alison Levitt QC, will evaluate any evidence found in the new inquiry, while continuing to review the mountain of information already gathered by police.

Last week, Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, resigned, claiming the ongoing controversy was a distraction from his work.

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