David Blunkett 'driven to brink of breakdown' by hacking
In his Sheffield constituency office, his guide dog Cosby at his feet, David Blunkett has opened up for the first time about the "terrible hurt" and "indescribable devastation" phone hacking inflicted on him, his family and friends.
"I came as close as anyone could ever come to having a breakdown without actually having one," the former home secretary admitted.
"The honest truth is I don't know how I managed to continue doing the job in the way that I did. I think it probably took me two years to fully recover."
The News of the World illegally intercepted hundreds of private messages Mr Blunkett had left on phones belonging to close friends, including intimate voicemails that revealed an affair and would ultimately destroy his cabinet career.
"It was devastating in terms of my life's work," he said. "I'd given everything to become in a position to make a difference to people's lives, to become a cabinet member, to be able to carry out the things that I wanted to do."
The first Mr Blunkett knew of the scandal which was to force him out of the New Labour government was when News of the World editor Andy Coulson arrived at his Sheffield home in August 2004 claiming to have evidence of an affair. Unbeknown to the home secretary, the evidence had come from phone hacking.
"It became very clear to me that something very strange had been going on," Mr Blunkett recalled. "You start to suspect that someone has, to put it pejoratively, betrayed you."
Revelations about Mr Blunkett's relationship with a married woman appeared in the News of the World and the Sun. Mr Blunkett could not work out how News International reporters had found out about the affair.
"It never crossed my mind that they might have hacked a phone. Spy stories indicated the intelligence services could get into these things, but you didn't imagine for a moment that the press would stoop to breaking the law in this way."
Detectives found more than 300 voicemail messages and transcripts from Mr Blunkett in a safe at the newspaper offices.
"It sours relationships to a terrible degree, which then comes back as a consequence later, which it did in my case," he explained. There was an acrimonious battle over custody of a child Mr Blunkett fathered with his former lover. "All these things have a dramatic impact on other people's lives and as a consequence on my life as well."
Mr Blunkett continued as home secretary until December 2004, when unproven allegations that he had a hand in fast-tracking a visa for his lover's nanny led to his resignation. Now he thinks he should have quit much earlier.
"There were personal things going on in my life that, in retrospect, I should have dealt with by stepping down that summer, but hindsight is a wonderful thing," Mr Blunkett said.
Having been forced out of government once, Mr Blunkett had to resign as work and pensions secretary less than a year later. Once again, phone hacking by the News of the World was a feature of the storm that finally destroyed his cabinet career.
"It was quite clear that the pack was after me," Mr Blunkett said, explaining why he had described the press as hyenas in a message hacked by the News of the World and later played in court. "They had decided, having damaged me severely once, they were out to do it again."
It was just one of a series of private messages left on the mobile phone of a woman who had falsely claimed to be having an affair with Mr Blunkett, subsequently found in a safe at the News of the World offices.
"They had decided that anything went, that whatever methodology they could use to get into the private life of not just politicians but private individuals as well as public figures, then they would use those methods," Mr Blunkett claimed.
"I believe that other news outlets have been involved in this as well, so it's not just News International."
David Blunkett defied blindness, family tragedy and poverty, rising to become a key figure in Tony Blair's New Labour government. He accepts he made mistakes in his career but says phone hacking caused indescribable devastation to him and those close to him.
"People have said to me 'why aren't you bitter?' The reason is you can't send bitterness like an email. It erodes you from inside. And the only way of dealing with this then and now was to pick yourself up and get on with life," Mr Blunkett added.
"This is not about vindictiveness or vengeance; it's not about hype about the media. This is about criminality, it's about breach of privacy and it's about obtaining justice. I hope now that that has been obtained."
Mr Blunkett agreed that the New Labour government had got too close to the Murdoch media empire and he supports the Leveson proposals for an independent press regulator.
"Despite the terrible hurt that had been done to me, the criminality that had been used in breaching mine and other people's privacy, I still believe in a free press but I believe in one which upholds the highest possible journalistic standards," he said.
Mr Blunkett has also revealed how he wants a change in the law to prevent witnesses in trials like the hacking case becoming "double victims".
"Evidence which was stolen has now been put in the public arena again, so privacy has been breached for a second time," he explained.
"I think we probably do need a light touch examination of how some material can be redacted, withdrawn, material put to the jury privately, so that it isn't reported from open court all over again."
The former home secretary said that the courts should adopt rules similar to those used for evidence in some sexual offence cases.
"I think that could be extended to where deeply private material obtained illegally is being put into the public arena. The impact on all of those people around me at the time, family and friends, and therefore on me has been profound."