Nick Brown, the former chief whip and key political ally of former prime minister Gordon Brown, became the latest public figure yesterday to say that he believes his private calls and messages were eavesdropped.
The Newcastle MP revealed that he believes his landline was the subject of an "amateurish" bugging operation around the time his homosexuality was made public in 1998.
Five years later, he was also approached by police investigating voicemail hacking claims and warned that his mobile phone may have been illegally accessed. The former Cabinet minister is the latest senior Labour figure to come forward with claims that his phone calls and messages were hacked. Tessa Jowell, the former culture secretary, revealed that her phone may have been accessed as recently as this week and she has hired lawyers to discover who hacked into her messages on 29 separate occasions in 2006.
Although it is not known in both cases who was responsible for the hacking, the claims will further fuel the phone hacking scandal engulfing the News of the World (NOTW), which is now the subject of a new police investigation following the decision of the Sunday paper to sack its head of news, Ian Edmondson.
Mr Brown, who was chief whip in the Commons for Tony Blair when he first came to power in 1997, said that his suspicions were raised following a conversation from a landline with an "important" person while his sexuality was still unknown. The MP said: "I picked up a landline telephone very quickly to make another call straight away. 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 sign of having been intercepted manually, not through scanners. It was an amateurish attempt involving the physical intervention of the line with a recording device."
He added: "The engineer thought a recording device had been set to record calls automatically. I have no idea who did it but it was clearly not the intelligence services. I assume it was someone acting for a newspaper."
Mr Brown, who also served as agriculture secretary, revealed he was gay after a former lover approached the NOTW offering to sell his story. In a speech to farmers the day after he confirmed his sexuality, the then minister put on a brave face, saying: "The sun is out – and so am I." There is no evidence that the NOTW was responsible for the bugging operation.
Mr Brown added that he was then approached by an unnamed police force in the west of England in 2003 who told him that they were pursuing a phone-tapping prosecution and he was one of those who may have been targeted. The case collapsed when it reached court and full details of the allegations were never disclosed.
The MP said: "Given that it was near [Prince Charles' home] Highgrove, my assumption was that this might involve the Royal Family. But I was never explicitly told that."
Mr Brown, regarded as a staunch supporter of Gordon Brown, who has made public his own concerns that his phone was hacked while he was chancellor, called on Scotland Yard to make a greater effort to ensure such crimes did not take place again. He said: "The only people who can properly inquire into this are the police and they are right to review everything."
A growing number of public figures have come forward recently claiming they were targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective who was jailed in 2007 along with the NOTW's then royal editor, Clive Goodman, for illegally accessing the voicemails of member of the royal household.
The television actress Leslie Ash and her husband, Lee Chapman, the former footballer, said they were planning to sue after records of phone numbers belonging to the couple and their children were found on notebooks seized at the home of Mr Mulcaire.Reuse content