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Tony Blair's help is sought to draw up new rules for Press

By Oliver Wright

The former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been invited to draw up proposals on how to regulate the Press in future.

In an unusual end to more than four hours of testimony, Lord Justice Leveson asked Mr Blair (below) to join a select group of witnesses who will help guide his thinking in writing his final report.

The request will dismay those who believe Mr Blair is still too close to the Murdoch empire, as well as newspaper groups who feel he harbours grudges over the treatment he received while in office. Mr Blair claimed:

  • He had an entirely professional “working” relationship with Rupert Murdoch and said there was “nothing odd” about him ringing the Australian proprietor three times immediately before the Iraq war to brief him on the invasion.
  • Mr Murdoch did not lobby him directly over media policy when he was prime minister.
  • The anti-European views of Mr Murdoch and News International did not affect Government policy.
  • His director of media Alastair Campbell and ally Peter Mandelson did not bully journalists — a suggestion greeted with laughter in Fleet Street.

Mr Blair’s evidence will also be remembered for a protester bursting into the inquiry and yelling: “This man should be arrested for war crimes.”

The intruder, who told reporters his name was David Lawley-Wakelin, managed to evade security and access the courtroom through a back corridor.

He was eventually wrestled to the ground by three men, ejected from the courtroom and arrested.

Mr Blair said he had sent Rebekah Brooks a message of support after she resigned from News International in the wake of the Milly Dowler phone hacking revelations because “I'm somebody who doesn't believe in being a fair-weather friend”.

But it was the request by Lord Justice Leveson to Mr Blair to submit his ideas for how a regulatory regime of the future might look which will concern parts of the tabloid media. Lord Leveson said that he believed it was possible to construct a statutory — but independent — complaints body that could command the respect both of the Press and the public. P


David Lawley-Wakelin, who managed to evade security and access Lord Justice Leveson’s court room through a back corridor, made a documentary film called The Alternative Iraq Enquiry. In it, the 49-year-old asks citizens and military personnel in Iraq if Tony Blair should be tried at the Hague for “crimes against peace”. He said it was “surprisingly easy” to get into the court.

Former PM gives his version of history to tribunal

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair yesterday set out his version of history when it came to dealing with Rupert Murdoch and his various lieutenants; the invasion of Iraq; and much more. Read on...

On a pact with Murdoch...

Claim: Blair said there was no “deal” with Rupert Murdoch and he felt no pressure from the commercial ambitions of the Murdoch Press.

Explanation: Blair said if you fall out with a big media empire, “then watch out, because it is relentless”. Essentially, New Labour kept well away from Murdoch's no-go zones, giving him the commercial freedom he demanded.

On Iraq

Claim: The inquiry heard that in the days before the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Blair made three phone calls to Rupert Murdoch on March 11, 13, and 19. He said calls were also made to a handful of other newspaper executives.

Explanation: The day before the first Murdoch call, Blair had given Saddam new tests to comply with. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, had already warned No 10 that the safest legal course was securing a second UN resolution. That wasn't looking likely. Blair needed serious support. The call to Mr Murdoch on March 13 was the same day Lord Goldsmith changed his mind on the legality of the war. The call on March 19 followed the Commons vote which gave the Parliamentary backing he needed to avoid resignation. War was now inevitable.

On calling off the phone hacking inquiry

Claim: “Absolutely not true.”

Tom Watson, a former minister in both the Brown and Blair Governments, has claimed Blair was asked by Murdoch to back off from probing into hacking.

Explanation: Watson says he is sure the call was made in 2009. In May 2008, News International's leading counsel, Michael Silverleaf QC, warned of the “culture of illegal information access” and that any trial would be “extremely damaging”. If Rupert Murdoch was warned, the call to Blair was him trying to protect his empire.

Belfast Telegraph


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