I secretly filmed tabloid journalists trying to buy medical records two years ago, and The Sun's claim that it based it's story on a member of the public doesn't stack up.
On monday The Guardian took the phonehacking story to a whole new level:
"Details from his [Gordon Bown] infant son's medical records were obtained by the Sun, who published a story about the child's serious illness."
Guardian Monday 13th July
The Sun has since denied it.
"We did not access the medical records of their son, nor did we commission anyone to do so. The story the Sun ran about their son originated from a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis."
News International said the individual had come to the Sun voluntarily as he wished to highlight the plight of those with the disease, adding that he had provided "a written affidavit" confirming this.
Apart from the fact that News International has been lying on an industrial scale throughout this affair, I know from experience it's impossible to sell health stories to that organisation without obtaining hard evidence.
In 2009, as part of an investigation for the film Starsuckers, I called up four Sunday tabloids, pretending I knew a Harley street nurse who wanted to sell plastic surgery medical records of celebrities. The Sunday Express turned us down saying it was against the PCC code and "a legal minefield". The News Of The World, Sunday Mirror and The People all asked to meet for a drink. During the secretly filmed meetings the journalists all expressed strong interest in the stories. The bloke from the Sunday Mirror offered me £3,000 per story and told me to "get a copy of every document in the building". The News Of The World hack said that they could offer up to eighty grand for health stories on A List Stars. The offers of cash in this sting were not the acts off rogue journalists, but were made with the blessing of their newsdesks, proving that criminality was ingrained in red top culture.
All three journalists told me their paper couldn't run a story about celebs having plastic surgery simply on my say so. Even a signed affidavit would not suffice. For their editors to be 100% sure that these celebrities had had their boobs nipped and tummies tucked, they would need cold hard evidence. Being in the libel capital of the world, all newspapers have learned through bitter experienced that they need solid proof on stories about the rich and famous, otherwise they'd be shredded in court. The Sun knows full well that affidavits are often not worth the paper they are written on - their Elton John case in the 80's collapsed as their source had fabricated a string of stories, all backed up with meaningless signed affidavits.
In my sting the journalist for the News Of The World, The Sun's sister paper, said that they could only print my stories if they had "proof". The "proof" in health stories can only have come from accessing some kind of medical records, and the sale of medical records is a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act (unless they could prove there was a huge public interest, which was impossible in this case)
The Sun and News Of The World share the same lawyers, so it follows that the Sun would have insisted on the same level of evidence for their Gordon Brown story as the News Of The World insisted for my plastic surgery story. Given the level of evidence required by News International's legal team for my sting, it seems extremely unlikely that The Sun would run a similar story simply on the say so of a member of the public.
When Starsuckers was released in 2009 The Guardian very kindly splashed this story on the front page. We thought the evidence that 75% of the Sunday tabloids were offering cash for health records would rock fleet street. But the story was completely ignored by the rest of the media.
Why did no other paper write about this, given the public's revulsion over the Gordon Brown story this week? I can only guess that finding out that one's industry is so riddled with criminality was deeply uncomfortable for any journalists to talk about - even for those who have never deviated from the rules. The instinct is to protect ones own in any profession, and never more so in the media. The lack of further coverage of my sting didn't make us bitter, as we were amazed at the Guardian coverage. But when I saw the Gordon Brown story this week, it did remind me that we exposed this problem nearly two years ago and it was quietly swept under the carpet.
I'm not going to do a Jemima Khan and claim we are responsible for bringing down the News Of The World - Starsuckers was just a drop in the ocean. There has been mounting evidence from all sides that tabloid practices were out of control, and we just added to the pile.
The fault in this scandal is not just with the demented hacks who trampled the privacy of celebrities and mourning parents alike. Nor does the buck stop with the corrupt police who took the bribes, or the politicians who ignored it. The job of a free press is to hold the rich and powerful to account, which includes other parts of the press. There was no-one more rich and powerful in this country than Rupert Murdoch and his newspapers, and the code of silence that cloaked the dark arts of Fleet Street is what enabled them to get away with it for so long.
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." The acts that were carried out by the News Of The World can only be described as evil. And they triumphed for many years because good men and women at The Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Times, The BBC and many others did nothing. By ignoring these despicable acts for so long, the mainstream press enabled this problem to grow for years, and now it has exploded and journalists are tarred with the same brush. My twitter feed is full of journalists complaining that their entire profession has been sullied by these disgusting practices. If more of them had done their job and written about it over the last five years, then they would be spared that embarrassment.
Follow Chris Atkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/scatatkins