Now Met Police probes 'The Sun' after union chief raises concerns

Detectives are looking into allegations that a second newspaper at Rupert Murdoch's News International may have used hacked voicemails to publish stories about the private life of a prominent public figure.

Andy Gilchrist, a former union leader, has asked Scotland Yard to investigate his belief that interception of his mobile phone messages led to negative stories about him appearing in The Sun at the height of an acrimonious national strike by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

He is the first public figure to suggest that the illegal technique was carried out for stories that ran in News International's best-selling daily title, rather than its Sunday red-top, the News of the World (NOTW).

One of the stories, headlined "Fire strike leader is a love cheat", appeared in The Sun during the first week of its editorship by Rebekah Brooks following her transfer from the NOTW.

As News International's chief executive, Ms Brooks, née Wade, is leading the company's defence against claims that phone hacking was rife at its headquarters in Wapping, east London.

Publicly vowing to root out wrongdoing, News International last month passed new evidence about the practice at the NOTW to the Met, prompting Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin to open a new inquiry which he said would leave "no stone unturned".

So far The Sun has been untainted by the scandal. News International said yesterday there was no evidence to support Mr Gilchrist's suspicions.

Mr Gilchrist, former general secretary of the FBU, contacted the Yard last year to ask whether his details had been logged by Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective employed by the NOTW who was jailed in 2007 for hacking the voicemails of aides to the Royal Family.

The Met told Mr Gilchrist in October 2010 that searching Mulcaire's hacking notes for his name would be problematic. But the force took a more urgent approach in a second letter to him dated 24 December, apologising for the delay and saying it would contact him with its findings as soon as possible. Mr Gilchrist is waiting to hear its response.

He told The Independent he had strong suspicions that The Sun's coverage of his extramarital affair was written after his voicemails were accessed during a long pay dispute in 2002 and 2003 which led to a strike.

In a strident campaign, The Sun criticised him for leading the strike, which resulted in soldiers being drafted in to cover in the run-up to the Iraq War.

"I have no doubt that during the 2002 and 2003 dispute I was the subject of a considerable amount of newspaper skulduggery," Mr Gilchrist said.

"It was a highly politically-charged situation at the time, very personal, and I have well-founded suspicions that information was obtained from my voicemails that led to stories in The Sun about my private and professional life. I have asked the police to investigate whether my name appears on the information they hold from Mr Mulcaire and they have said they are now consulting those records."

A front page on 20 January 2003 revealed his relationship with Tracey Holland, a former firefighter in North Wales. Published six days after Ms Brooks became editor of The Sun, the article included an account of the year-long affair by Ms Holland.

Ms Holland told The Independent this week that when she was approached by The Sun, the paper already had considerable detail about her relationship with Mr Gilchrist. "When they first came to me it was made clear that they knew all about it," she said.

"They had lots of information about how long we'd been together. Messages would have been left but I don't know if that is how knowledge of us got out."

A News International spokesman said there was no substance to Mr Gilchrist's claims: "There is absolutely nothing to suggest the appearance of these articles was linked to the interception of voicemail. News International has made it clear that, if there is any evidence of wrongdoing, swift and decisive action will be taken."

Fireman who felt heat of the media

For Andy Gilchrist's pursuers in the right-wing press it was manna from heaven. The leader of striking firefighters decried in headlines as a "Flaming Idiot" had spent £817 on a sumptuous Indian meal with companions and used his union debit card to pay for it.

Critics were quick to point out that the £200-a-head meal in February 2003 at the Cinnamon Club restaurant in Westminster took place when some firefighters were accepting food hand-outs during a rancorous five-month pay dispute by the Fire Brigades Union.

It turned out, however, that although Mr Gilchrist had used his FBU Visa card to pay for the dinner, he contacted the finance department the next day and repaid the full sum within a matter of days – all before any media coverage. Rather than being a blow-out for Mr Gilchrist and union cronies, the meal was a private gathering of family and friends. Each participant refunded their share.

The story was one of a succession of "revelations" about Mr Gilchrist, the son of a merchant seaman and a dinner lady, during a bitter strike which saw him elevated to the status of socialist bogeyman. The Sun, a strident detractor, set the tone, saying he "talks and acts like a left-wing militant dinosaur from the Seventies".

Although claims that Mr Gilchrist attended a private school (he was a grammar school boy) and stayed in five-star hotels (he preferred Travelodge-style accommodation) did not stick, he was frank in his admission that he was a member of the union movement "awkward squad" that had little time for New Labour.

This made him enemies not only in the right-wing media but also the Labour government, where some senior figures took satisfaction from his discomfiture at the disclosures about his private life.

In 2005, Mr Gilchrist was ousted from the leadership of the FBU but he can look back on 17 years as a firefighter with some pride. He was hailed as a hero in 1991 when he rescued a family of three from a burning flat, entering the building four times to ensure no one was trapped.

Cahal Milmo and Martin Hickman

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone