U.K. Government Office Casts Doubt on Rupert Murdoch Claim

8:11 AM PST 06/15/2012 by Stuart Kemp

The News Corp. CEO had told the Leveson Inquiry that former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had declared war on the media conglomerate.

LONDON – Rupert Murdoch's claim that former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown used a call in the fall of 2009 to pledge to declare "war" on News Corp. and the company's U.K. publishing division News International was thrown into doubt on Friday.

The U.K. government's Cabinet Office released a statement after Brown's evidence before the Leveson inquiry earlier this week where the former prime minister said the conversation described by Murdoch in his own evidence to the inquiry "never took place." Brown said under oath at the Leveson that he never threatened Murdoch for supporting his rival David Cameron via his media empire as Murdoch recently suggested at the inquiry set up to investigate media ethics.

"This call did not happen, the threat was not made," Brown said, adding he was "shocked" by Murdoch's claims, when giving his evidence. "There is absolutely no evidence for this phone call or for the threat or for the judgment that Mr. Murdoch made as a result of something that he was never party to," he added.

The Cabinet Office said Friday there is only one record of a call between Brown and Murdoch in the year up to March 2010 and that the conversation took place on Nov. 10, 2009, when the two men discussed Afghanistan.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "That call took place on the 10th of November 2009. This was followed up by an email from Gordon Brown to Rupert Murdoch on the same day referring to the earlier conversation on Afghanistan."

"I stand by every word is aid at Leveson," Murdoch said in a tweet late Friday afternoon London time.   

In April, Murdoch, also under oath, told Leveson that he spoke to the then prime minister Brown after The Sun said it was switching allegiance to support the Conservative Party on Sept. 30, 2009.

According to Murdoch, Brown told him: "Well, your company has declared war on my government and we have no alternative but to make war on your company." Murdoch also proferred the opinion that Brown was not "in a very balanced state of mind".

The Cabinet Office added on Friday: "Four witness statements have been submitted to the [Leveson] Inquiry on the content of the call by staff who worked in No.10 Downing Street and who were the four and sole personnel on the phone call.”

Governments do not normally release information related to a previous administration, but the Cabinet office said it issued the statement on the back of a slew of enquiries after the British media went into a frenzy over the contrasting memories of the two men.

In his evidence to the inquiry Monday, Brown stated any calls to media moguls such as Murdoch would always go through the Downing Street switchboard.

Asked if he ever rang people directly from, for example, a hotel phone, Brown replied under oath: "Not someone like Mr Murdoch. I would always go through Downing Street because you would always want someone on the phone call. You would want to have a record of what was being said, and you would want to know exactly the time you did the call and everything else."

Brown said there was no question that any phone call could have been made without it going through this procedure.

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