Gordon Brown issues challenge over Sunday Times recordings

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown has stepped up his campaign against Rupert Murdoch’s News International media group, sending tape recordings to the Metropolitan Police earlier today which he says challenge the Sunday Times’s assurances that it broke no laws when investigating his personal financial affairs.

In a letter to Sue Akers – the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner who is heading the investigation into illegal phone hacking by the News of the World – the former Prime Minister states that the tapes detail conversations between named journalists on the Sunday Times and a private investigator, Barry Beardall.

Mr Brown claims in his letter that the tapes reveal discussions on how Mr Beardall’s investigations for the Sunday Times were progressing, and on plans for “reverse engineering” a telephone number to obtain an address.

The tape is alleged to contain Mr Beardall impersonating Mr Brown – a technique that was used when a conman contacted a Bradford call centre and tried to “blag” information from the Abbey National building society on Mr Brown’s financial affairs.

Abbey National's senior lawyer was afterwards moved to write to The Sunday Times editor John Witherow: “On the basis of facts and inquiries, I am drawn to the conclusion that someone from The Sunday Times or acting on its behalf has masqueraded as Mr Brown for the purpose of obtaining information from Abbey National by deception.”

The Abbey National described the blagging attempt, which failed, as “a well-orchestrated scheme of deception”.

Despite the Sunday Times’s assurances that its employees broke no laws and operated within media codes on subterfuge, Mr Brown tells Ms Akers that this position is no longer tenable given the detail and names the tapes contain.

Mr Brown launched a ferocious attack on Mr Murdoch’s newspapers in the House of Commons two months ago, claiming that “News International descended from the gutter to the sewer. The tragedy is that they let the rats out of the sewer.”

The original Sunday Times investigation into Mr Brown’s affairs when he was still Chancellor centred on allegations that he acquired a flat at a price cheaper than the normal valuation, and that he had secured the deal through a company of which Geoffrey Robinson, a former Labour minister and friend, had been a director.

The Sunday Times insisted in July this year that it had reasonable grounds to investigate, that its story gave all sides a fair hearing and that its employees had worked within the law. The Independent is awaiting further comment from the media group.

Mr Brown states that in the tapes Mr Beardall is also heard to discuss the tactics used in trying to sway a Labour politician into changing the party’s policy on urban development.

The former PM tells Ms Akers he believes that three senior Sunday Times journalists, who are named, were aware of the techniques Mr Beardall was using.