Leveson told News of the World struck 'deal' with Sir Alex Ferguson over 'blagged' medical records

Former News of the World sports reporter Matthew Driscoll alleged today that the paper apparently blagged the medical records of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and then struck a deal with him to keep the information out of the public domain.

Driscoll left the NoW in 2007 after a decade at the paper and won almost £800,000 at an employment tribunal the following year over allegations of bullying and discrimination.

He told the Leveson Inquiry that there were several incidents which concerned him during his time at the paper which could be evidence of ‘darker aspects’of its activities. However, he said he had no first-hand knowledge of journalists phone-hacking at the NoW.

In written testimony he made reference to working on a story about a sporting figure who apparently had an “illness”, but he said that the story had ‘stalled’because of ‘a raft of denials”.

He said: ‘It was then I had my first realisation of what is now referred to as ‘the darker arts’ of the paper’s investigations when I was confronted with the whole personal medical records of BLANK which had been obtained by the sports desk via the news division. I remember my jaw dropping in utter shock.”

In spoken evidence to the inquiry this afternoon he was asked about what was apparently the same incident. He said that the matter was ‘nothing life-threatening”.

Asked how the information was brought to light, Driscoll said that it was via a ‘blagging technique”.

Asked about such techniques by inquiry lawyer Carine Patry Hoskins, he said: ‘I was told that sometimes we would get a situation where an investigator would send a fax to a hospital and say ‘I’m a consultant, I need these details’.”

Driscoll said: ‘There was a phone-call to that manager to tell him exactly what we knew, he was very upset about it and made his thoughts known about that and said there was no way he wanted that story to appear in public.”

Driscoll then said that in this case the information was used like a ‘tradeable commodity”.

Driscoll said: ‘It was put to Alex Ferguson that we wouldn’t use this information and in the end it was mentioned to him that we would keep it quiet and would keep it out of the public domain and because of that he then started cooperating with the paper.”

Lord Justice Leveson said: “Do I gather that as a reseult of whatever the deal was the particular information that you had the deal about didn’t appear in the public domain?”

Driscoll: ‘It was made clear that we wouldn’t use that information and because of that, for instance, a few months later he gave us some stories to use in the paper.”

Leveson: ‘There was a deal done?”

Dirscoll: ‘You could definitely call it that.”

In his written evidence to the inquiry Driscoll said: ‘There were other times after that when I also witnessed the use of what is now referred to as blagging – that is when a specialist actor would be employed to pretend to be someone else in order to obtain private information. The general attitude to this in the newsroom was one of mirth.

‘In fact I came to realise that, with regard to the features, showbiz and news departments the obtaining of medical records was regarded as a mundane action.”

Driscoll emphasised the pressure journalists were facing from the top: ‘The next front page was all that mattered, no matter how it was obtained. It seemed that any method that could stand a story up was fair game.”

He said: “Most of the journalists on the paper were decent people trapped in a whirpool of aggressive thirst for stories at any cost.”

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