Former PM Gordon Brown calls for police probe into Murdoch paper

LONDON (Reuters) - Former prime minister Gordon Brown called on police to examine the activities of John Ford, an ex-private investigator who told the BBC he had been used by Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times to obtain information about government ministers.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's former Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks at the Bank of England conference 'Independence 20 Years On' at the Fishmonger's Hall in London, September 28 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

Murdoch was forced to shut his News of the World tabloid in 2011 after staff admitted hacking into phones to get scoops, sparking a criminal trial and a public inquiry.

The activities of Murdoch’s newspapers have returned to the spotlight as regulators examine a bid by his Twenty-First Century Fox for European pay-TV operator Sky.

Ford said he had targeted 15-20 members of the Labour government elected in 1997 including Brown and his predecessor as Prime Minister Tony Blair, intercepting hundreds of phone conversations, obtaining bank account and utility bill information and searching rubbish bins.

He told the BBC he was paid by the Murdoch broadsheet for 15 years between 1995 and 2010, and that his actions were “at the forefront” of large-scale criminal activity on the part of the title.

The Sunday Times, which said it had a strong record of investigative journalism over decades, denied his claims.

“The paper strongly rejects the accusation that it has in the past retained or commissioned any individual to act illegally,” it said.

Brown said that according to Ford’s claims there were at least 25, and up to 40, violations of criminal law by the Murdoch group including impersonating him and tampering with his phone.

“This new evidence shows that even when under oath, what was then News International misled the (public) Leveson Inquiry,” he said in a statement.

“I am now calling for police to investigate this criminal wrongdoing.”

Britain said last week it would not proceed with the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into newspaper ethics.

Media Secretary Matt Hancock said it was not in the national interest to go ahead with part two of the Leveson Inquiry which laid bare the cosy ties between British leaders, police chiefs and press barons in its initial conclusions in 2012.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison