UK Politics

Brown in ferocious Commons attack on News International

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Media captionGordon Brown told MPs he called for a judge-led inquiry into hacking when he was PM

Gordon Brown has launched a ferocious attack on News International in the Commons, accusing it of "law-breaking on an industrial scale".

The former prime minister told MPs the publisher had been part of a "criminal-media nexus" and many innocent people had suffered from stories written by its newspapers.

He was speaking after parent firm News Corporation dropped its bid for BSkyB.

News International has denied stories about Mr Brown were sourced illegally.

The former prime minister mounted the fierce attack in a debate in Parliament - the first major one he has spoken in since he left power last year.

'Not cosy'

He defended his government's relationship with News International, saying he had "stood up for the public interest" in his dealings with the Murdoch-owned press and not struck any private deals.

Mr Brown, who was prime minister when the Murdoch press transferred its allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives, said his relationship with the publisher was never "cosy nor comfortable".

Mr Brown said he was shocked by what he learnt about the conduct of titles owned by the firm when he became prime minister in 2007.

He claimed the firm - whose recently closed paper the News of the World is at the centre of a police inquiry into phone hacking - had "descended from the gutter to the sewers".

"Those at News International who took the freedom of the press as a licence for abuse, who then cynically manipulated our support of that vital freedom as their justification and then callously used the defence of the free press as the banner under which they marched in step, I say, with members of the criminal underworld," he said.

"And it was this nexus, this criminal media nexus, claiming to be on the side of the law-abiding citizen, but in fact standing side by side with criminals against our citizens."

'Private sorrows'

Police are investigating claims that the murdered school girl Milly Dowler, the families of those killed in the 7/7 London bombings and bereaved relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are among those whose phones were hacked into.

Mr Brown said the "private lives, private losses and private sorrows" of many "wholly innocent" men, women and children had been "treated as public property" by News International, adding that he knew of more victims of hacking.

"Their private and inner most feelings and their private tears bought and sold by News International for commercial gain," he said.

Mr Brown also suggested he considered launching an inquiry into alleged phone hacking in early 2010 but was advised against it by Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service Sir Gus O'Donnell, and decided against the move.

Reading out the advice provided on the matter at the time, he said one of the reasons he was given for not beginning a probe was the proximity of a general election and the feeling that such a move could be seen to be "politically motivated".

Mr Brown has agreed that the Cabinet Office can publish the advice he received as prime minister about his desire to set up an inquiry.

Labour MPs applauded Mr Brown after he completed his speech - his first major parliamentary intervention since leaving Downing Street.

However, some Tory MPs jeered and several intervened to question why he had not done more to combat press power during his time in office.

For the government, Deputy Commons leader David Heath said Mr Brown had provided "serious evidence" and he hoped it would be considered by the public inquiry.

The Commons proceeded with a debate about News Corporation's bid for broadcaster BSkyB despite its decision earlier on Wednesday to withdraw it, citing the current "climate".

MPs from all parties backed a Labour motion calling for the bid to be withdrawn in "the public interest" without the need for a vote.

Both the Sun and the Sunday Times have refuted specific allegations made by Mr Brown about the methods they used to obtain stories about him and his family.

The Sunday Times has rejected claims it used criminals to get access to his personal details. The Sun said a story it ran about Mr Brown's baby son having cystic fibrosis had been sourced legitimately.