Brown attacks Sun over Afghanistan and Fraser stories

Gordon Brown today insisted that The Sun somehow gained inappropriate access to information about his baby son's medical condition in order to reveal he had cystic fibrosis.

And he insisted that no permission was given for publication of the 2006 story. In both regards, the former prime minister is contradicting assurances to the contrary given by The Sun.

Brown first complained about publication of the story last year prompting The Sun to obtain a sworn statement from its source, who was described as "a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis".

The paper also insisted that it only published the story after receiving the go-ahead from the Brown family.

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today, Brown said: 'Only a few people knew that my son had this medical condition." He said he has submitted a letter from Fife Health Board in which it apologises for the disclosure of the information about Fraser Brown's condition, which it believes came from a member of staff.

Brown suggested that The Sun's source for the story was at best a 'go-between'and said the paper needed to reveal whether any payment was made for the story.

He said that an initial approach had been made to the Number Ten press office by a Sun journalist who said: 'They had this story and they were going to publish it."

Brown said that if this story was going to be published he wanted to 'minimise the impact'so a decision was made to put out a first and final statement on the matter to all media.

He said Number Ten was then contacted by The Sun and informed that this was not acceptable, and that if this happened the paper would stop going to Number Ten in advance of publishing stories.

Brown said: 'We were presented with a fait accompli, there was no question of any implicit or explicit permission."

Although Sarah Brown spoke with then Sun editor Rebekah Wade in advance of publication, Brown also denied that she had given permission for the story to appear.

He said: 'Would any mother or father presented with a choice as to whether the medical condition of their four-month-old son should be broadcast on the front page of a tabloid newspaper, and who had a choice in this matter, allow it?"

Brown also accused The Sun of 'letting the country down'by reducing debate over British involvement in Afghanistan to personal attacks on him when he was prime minister.

Brown said that Afghanistan is currently 'falling into the hands of the Taliban'but that The Sun has been silent on this issue since the 2010 general election.

He said because of this 'I had to conclude that these were not campaigns related to objective journalism …These were compaigns designed to cause discomfort to people who were politically unacceptable."

Brown noted that when he was prime minister there was a six-fold increase in UK defence spending on Afghanistan.

But he said that certain newspapers 'reduced the opinion that we were doing something wrong to a view that I simply didn't care".

And he said that this was an illustration of the problems caused by the 'conflation of news and comment".

He said examples of this were the story that he did not bow at the cenotaph (he said this was not true), a story that he fell asleep at a festival of remembrance (he said he was bowing his head in prayer) and the letter he wrote to a bereaved parent that was mocked in The Sun for having 25 mistakes in it.

Brown said that the effect of this sort of coverage was to 'sensationalise, to trivialise and to demonise", and that the press had 'failed our country'in this regard.

Commenting on the allegations, John Wilson, the chief executive of NHS Fife, said: 'Any breach of confidentiality in the NHS is unacceptable. 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.

'We believe, however, that there was no inappropriate access to the child's medical records. We are quite clear that conversations about patients are just as much a breach of confidentiality as looking into their medical records.

'In the six years which have passed, NHS Fife has tightened up its procedures on patient confidentiality, and staff have had appropriate training.

'I have apologised to Mr and Mrs Brown and we have taken steps to ensure that what happened to Mr and Mrs Brown and their family should not happen again."

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