Gordon Brown has given his strongest hint to date that the Government may nationalise Northern Rock. The Times

Speaking after shareholders had rejected attempts to restrict the stricken bank board’s freedom to sell assets, the Prime Minister spoke of the possibility of it being taken into public ownership and then being returned to the private sector.

Mr Brown’s comments came as sources told The Times that taxpayers could be forced to stump up an additional £2.4bn if the Government opted for nationalisation.

The extra costs, on top of the £26bn already lent to Northern Rock — and £30bn in guarantees — would be needed to pay off the bank’s shareholders and potentially a clutch of bondholders which own about £2bn in debt.