A Sun story accusing former Prime Minister Gordon Brown of sending an ‘insulting’letter to a bereaved mum was ‘too harsh”, former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks admitted at the Leveson Inquiry today.
Jacqui Janes, whose son Jamie was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan, said Brown’s letter of condolence was a ‘hastily scrawled insult”, while The Sun called it a “gaffe-strewn note” that was “riddled” with spelling errors.
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It caused controversy at the time because Brown’s poor handwriting was attributed to a rugby accident in his teenage years that left him blind in one eye.
Today Brooks conceded the tone of the article, published on 9 November 2009, and its headline (‘Bloody shameful”) were wrong and she warned editor Dominic Mohan it should not happen again.
Brown called Brooks the day the story appeared, a conversation Brooks said she remembered ‘quite clearly”.
The conversation was ‘quite tense”, she said. ‘The tone of it was very aggressive and quite rightly he was hurt by the projection and headline that had been put on story”.
Brown said he suspected The Sun would indulge in further personal attacks in run up to the 2010 election.
Brooks told him the headline was ‘too harsh’and assured the then prime minister that it was ‘not a way the paper was going to behave”.
‘I thought that Mr Brown’s concerns that The Sun coverage was going to be a personal attack was understandable, and I thought that would be wrong,’she said.
Asked by the counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay QC, whether personal attacks by The Sun were what politicians feared most, she replied: ‘No, I think the fact that it resulted in such an extraordinarily aggressive conservation which I had with Mr Brown shows that it actually doesn’t happen all the time. I remember it very clearly or the nature of it.”
She added: ‘I think that Neil Kinnock may feel that about the Sun, but I’m not sure that the paper has been like that for a while.”
Brooks told the inquiry that ‘in the main’The Sun concentrated on ‘the issues and the policy and the campaigns rather than attacking just for the sake of personal attacks”, adding: ‘I think Mr Brown felt that was a purely personal attack.’
Switch to Tories
Brooks earlier revealed that the decision to switch allegiance from Labour to the Tories was taken by a small number of senior executives at News International in June 2009 – and that she played an ‘instrumental’role in the discussions.
It was decided at a meeting attended by Brooks, James and Rupert Murdoch, Mohan, political editor Tom Newton Dunn and some other senior members of the politics team including Trevor Kavanagh.
She said the discussion focused on how the paper had ‘run out of ways to support Gordon Brown’s government”, and that The Sun ‘probably hadn’t written one editorial in support of the Labour government for quite some time”.
Asked if she played a major role in the Tory switch, she replied: ‘I was certainly instrumental in it. Ultimately Rupert Murdoch was the boss, but I was instrumental in it.’
She denied being the ‘driving force’behind the decision and said Kavanagh, Mohan and Newton Dunn were also influential figures.
Brooks insisted that only a small part of the conversation was on which party would win the next election, claiming the biggest motivator was that readers were ‘very unhappy with the lot they had”.
David Cameron was ‘absolutely not’told about the timing of the switch, which came after Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference.
The decision on the timing of the announcement was taken by same group and was not designed to inflict maximum political damage on Brown, according to Brooks.
The paper felt it would have been ‘terribly unfair’to have made the announcement at the beginning of the conference,’she told the inquiry.
Quizzed about her relationship with current Prime Minister David Cameron, she said that up until her resignation last year they had exchanged text message about once a week.
She said Cameron would sign off his messages DC and would sometimes write “lol”, adding: “Until I told him it meant laugh out loud”.