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Ex-British prime minister 'shocked' by new hacking claims

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Ex-PM Gordon Brown is "shocked" by the latest claims
  • "It is very personal and really hurtful if all true," former prime minister's wife says in tweet
  • The allegations about Brown widen a scandal that sunk Britain's News of the World
  • The scandal threatens News International's plan to create the largest British media company

London (CNN) -- The scandal that brought down Britain's biggest Sunday newspaper widened Monday with allegations that journalists from other News International papers improperly obtained personal information about former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Brown expressed dismay at the allegations Monday night and has given investigators "all relevant evidence" he has about the matter, according to a statement from his office.

"The family has been shocked by the level of criminality and the unethical means by which personal details have been obtained," the statement said. "The matter is in police hands."

The latest accusations of wrongdoing by journalists working for News International papers were published by rival outlet the Guardian on Monday. The Guardian said the tabloid The Sun -- the country's best-selling daily newspaper -- obtained details about Brown's seriously ill son and published a story about him, while people working for the upmarket Sunday Times tricked the former Labour Party leader's accountants into handing over financial details.

The efforts dated back some 10 years, and include periods when Brown was prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer, according to the Guardian.

News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corporation, issued a statement saying it was aware of the allegations.

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"So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us," the company's statement read.

And Brown's wife, Sarah, responded in a post on her Twitter account. "So sad to learn all I am about my family's privacy -- it is very personal and really hurtful if all true," the post read.

The latest allegations follow Sunday's closure of the News of the World over other allegations of illegal breach of privacy. The decision to pull the plug on the 168-year-old paper came amid accusations that its reporters illegally eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terrorist victims, politicians and celebrities, as well as claims it may have bribed police officers. Police said Thursday they had identified almost 4,000 potential targets of phone-hacking.

The widening scandal and public outrage over it threaten to scuttle plans by Murdoch to create Britain's largest media company by acquiring satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

U.K. Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced Monday in Parliament that he was referring the proposed sale to the Competition Commission for a thorough review.

"I know that colleagues on all sides of this house and the public at home feel very concerned at the prospect of the organization which allegedly allowed these terrible things to happen being allowed to take control of what would become Britain's biggest media company," Hunt said.

The company said Monday that it was withdrawing its plan to sell television channel Sky News as part of its acquisition of BSkyB pending further consideration of the bid.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Murdoch to reconsider the acquisition in light of public "revulsion" over the scandal.

Earlier Monday, London's Metropolitan Police angrily blasted leaks from its investigation into illegal eavesdropping by News of the World, hours after British media reported that the paper tried to bribe royal protection officers to get private phone numbers for members of the royal family.

Police said News International had shared information about alleged efforts by reporters to bribe police, and that both sides had agreed to keep the information confidential.

Police said they were "extremely concerned and disappointed" at the leaks, which they said "could have a significant impact on the corruption investigation."

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Police, the royal family and News International all refused to answer CNN questions about allegations that a reporter sought company money to pay a royal protection officer for the confidential details about the royal family.

BBC business editor Robert Peston claimed Monday that News of the World e-mails showed former royal correspondent Clive Goodman "was requesting cash from the newspaper's editor, Andy Coulson, to buy a confidential directory of the royal family's landline telephone numbers, and all the phone numbers -- including mobiles -- of the household staff."

Goodman was sent to prison in 2007 for illegally intercepting royal family voice mails. Coulson insisted he knew nothing about the crime, but resigned as editor because it happened on his watch.

Coulson went on to become communications director for David Cameron, now Britain's Conservative prime minister, but resigned from that post earlier this year because of fallout from the phone-hacking scandal. He was questioned by police on Friday and released on bail until October.

The controversy continued despite the shuttering of the News of the World. Murdoch has not apologized to the family of a murdered British teenage girl whose phone messages were illegally intercepted, a lawyer for the girl's family said Monday.

Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the newspaper at the time 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, should resign, Dowler family lawyer Mark Lewis also said.

"She should do the honorable thing," Lewis said. "She was editor at the time Milly was taken. She should take editorial responsibility" for the actions of her journalists, he said.

Brooks has since been promoted to chief executive of News International, and Murdoch has stood by her so far. She may be questioned by police about the scandal in the coming weeks, a News International source told CNN Monday.

The source emphasized that Brooks would be interviewed as a witness, not a suspect, if police do question her, and rejected British press reports that the questioning would take place Monday.

The source asked not to be named discussing internal company business.

Dowler's mother and sister met with Clegg on Monday, keeping the scandal in the public eye. They are due to sit down with Labour leader Ed Miliband on Tuesday and with Cameron on Wednesday, Lewis said.

Clegg also said: "We owe it to the Dowlers" to get the bottom of what happened.

The News of the World struck a wistful yet proud tone in its final editorial Sunday, and repeated its owner's apology for the criminal activities that brought the paper down.

"Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry," it said in an unsigned piece. "There is no justification for this appalling wrongdoing."

The paper welcomed Cameron's call for two inquiries, one into how police investigated the allegations of phone hacking and one into the ethics and standards of British journalists.

Separately, police are already conducting their second investigation into the hacking itself.

Downing Street on Saturday confirmed that Cameron has approached the head of the judiciary of England and Wales to suggest names for the judge to lead the inquiry into the hacking allegations.

Murdoch flew into London Sunday, hours after the final edition of the News of the World hit the stands. The publication was the first British national paper Murdoch bought, in 1969, as he began to propel himself from Australian newspaper proprietor to international media magnate.

With its closure, News International now owns the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times in Britain. Murdoch's News Corporation also encompasses Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Harper Collins publishers.

CNN's Richard Greene, Andy Carey and Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

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