Leveson Inquiry: Gordon Brown given apology by NHS Fife
- 11 June 2012
- From the section UK
NHS chiefs have apologised to former prime minister Gordon Brown after finding it was "highly likely" details of his son's cystic fibrosis were disclosed by a staff member.
The Sun ran a story in 2006 about Fraser Brown's medical condition, but denied accessing his medical records.
At the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Brown criticised the lack of "honesty" over the story and revealed the NHS apology.
He insisted he and his wife did not grant the Sun permission for the story.
Instead, he said, the Sun presented him and wife Sarah with "a fait accompli" when they contacted them and revealed they knew of Fraser's condition.
Mr Brown said: "There was no question of us giving permission for this, there was no question of implicit or explicit permission.
"And I ask you if any mother or any father was presented with a choice as to whether a four-month-old son's medical condition - your child's medical condition - should be broadcast on the front page of a tabloid newspaper, and you had a choice in this matter, I don't think there's any parent in the land that would have made the choice."
Mr Brown went on to say: "I find it sad that even now, in 2012, members of the News International staff are coming to this inquiry and maintaining this fiction that a story that could only have been achieved or obtained through medical information or through me or my wife... was obtained in another way.
"We can't learn the lesson about what has happened with the media anything unless there is some honesty about what actually happened, whether payment was made and whether this is a practice which could continue."
Responding to Mr Brown's evidence about his son's records at NHS Fife, its chief executive John Wilson said: "We now accept that it is highly likely that, sometime in 2006, a member of staff in NHS Fife spoke, without authorisation, about the medical condition of Mr Brown's son, Fraser.
"With the passage of time it has not been possible to identify all the circumstances."
He said the trust did not think the child's medical records had been inappropriately accessed but were clear that "conversations about patients" were as much a breach of confidentiality.
And following NHS Fife's statement, a News International spokeswoman said: "We welcome the fact that NHS Fife have today said that they believe there was 'no inappropriate access' to the medical records of Gordon Brown's son.
"The Sun stands by previous statements issued on the matter."
The newspaper has previously strongly denied accessing Mr Brown's family medical records without his knowledge, saying the information had come from a member of the public whose own child also had cystic fibrosis.
Rebekah Brooks told the Leveson Inquiry during her appearance in May that she had the express permission of the Browns to run the story about Fraser.
The Leveson Inquiry is currently focusing on the relationship between the press and politicians.
Aside from the coverage of his son, Mr Brown also criticised further examples of Sun journalism during his time in office, including a claim he fell asleep at a memorial service when, he explained, he had actually bowed his head to pray.
He also criticised the paper's coverage of the war in Afghanistan, saying that the paper had concluded during his time in office that he "personally did not care about our troops in Afghanistan".
"I still feel to this day that huge damage was done to the war effort by the suggestion we just didn't care about what was happening to the troops," he said.
Covering his relationship with the media in general, Mr Brown said that, contrary to many reports, he did not instruct his aides to use the media to brief against ministers, in particular to attempt to force Tony Blair's resignation towards the end of his time in office.
There is "no evidence" that his aides ever briefed against Mr Blair, Mr Brown said, and he also denied instructing his aide Charlie Whelan to brief the media against the then-Chancellor Alistair Darling.
"Nobody in my position would have instructed any briefing against a senior minister and Alistair Darling was a friend of mine as well as a colleague," he said.
He went on to say media in Britain, at its best, is the "best in the world" but said one of the problems of the press is the conflation of fact and opinion.
He also said that he and his wife Sarah had been determined that they did not want their children to "grow up as minor celebrities" and that he had asked newspaper editors to agree that their children would not be the subject of coverage while they were at nursery school and primary school.
When asked why his wife had remained friends with Sun editor Rebekah Brooks following the paper's coverage of Fraser's cystic fibrosis, he said: "Sarah is one of the most forgiving people I know. We had to get on with the job of doing what is expected."
The News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch told the inquiry in April that Mr Brown had phoned him in an "unbalanced" state of mind and threatened war on his media empire after the Sun had switched its support from Labour to the Conservatives in 2009.
The former PM later denied having made such a threat and repeated this denial to the inquiry counsel, Robert Jay QC.
"This call did not happen, this threat was not made. I couldn't be unbalanced on a call that I didn't have... and I find it shocking that we should get to this situation some time later when there is no evidence of this call happening at the time that he says it happened and you to be told under oath that this was the case."
Mr Murdoch has since issued a statement saying he "stands behind his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry".
Mr Brown also said that none of these dealings with Mr Murdoch were about politics. "I would rather have been an honest one-term prime minister than a dishonest two-term prime minister," he said.