The News of the World pulled a story about Gordon Brown’s plans for a “snap election” from this weekend’s paper at short notice following concerns about its accuracy.
The Sunday tabloid sent an embargoed copy of the story, seen by Press Gazette, to broadcasters on Saturday afternoon but issued an urgent retraction three hours later.
The piece claimed that the prime minister held a “secret meeting” in his Downing Street study on Tuesday with advisers and had “thrashed out a plan” to take the Conservatives by surprise and call an election next summer – a year earlier than expected.
It also claimed that the new secretary of state for business, Lord Mandelson, and Brown’s former press secretary Charlie Whelan attended the meeting.
The pair were said to have “buried the hatchet”, almost a decade after they both left the Government following a row over a leaked story revealing Mandelson had failed to declare a £375,000 home loan.
This week’s News of the World story was sent to broadcasters on Saturday afternoon with a 7pm embargo, to gain advance publicity.
The News International tabloid retracted the story two hours before the embargo lifted in an urgent email, which read: “Please note that we are killing this story. Further investigations leave us unsatisfied as to its accuracy.”
One Lobby source said: “It was heavily denied in advance of publication – not only by Number 10 but by other parties alleged to have been there.”
News of the World sources have told Press Gazette that there was “no way” that the piece would have made the front-page splash and that it was “a short story on page two”.
The News of the World declined to comment.
A Downing Street spokesman said the meeting in question did not take place, but refused to comment further.