Tony Blair's appearance before Leveson media inquiry

Key points

  • Tony Blair gives evidence to Leveson Inquiry for just over four hours, the day's sole witness
  • Ex-prime minister's evidence briefly interrupted by protester, who hurls accusations at him
  • Former PM says "unhealthy" relationship has evolved between press and politicians, but interaction is inevitable

    Good morning and welcome to this BBC live page for the Leveson Inquiry. Today, former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be giving evidence. He is the day's sole witness and the action is scheduled to start at 1000 BST.


    Mr Blair is the first of a series of high-profile figures who have been called to Leveson HQ - otherwise known as court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice - this week. Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May are scheduled for tomorrow and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on Wednesday. Then on Thursday, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is giving evidence.


    The BBC's Ross Hawkins reports that protesters are beginning to gather outside the inquiry, which is being held at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The police look on as they do so, he says.


    The thrust of Mr Blair's appearance is set to revolve around his relationship with the chairman of News International, Rupert Murdoch. Labour's former communications director, Lance Price, says the relationship was perhaps handled in too secretive a manner. "A lot of the stuff that was going on behind the scenes, a lot of the meetings, a lot of the discussions weren't known to the public," he told BBC News this morning.

    0959: Peter Hunt News correspondent

    tweets: Leveson: barrister Robert Jay has a copy of Tony Blair's autobiography A Journey on his desk. #Leveson #hacking


    The action's under way - a tanned Mr Blair has taken his oath and his seat, wearing a dark blue suit, blue tie and crisp white shirt.


    The BBC's Peter Hunt has spotted an entourage in the inquiry room for Mr Blair, in the form of two assistants and three bodyguards.


    Mr Blair begins by saying there is always "certain tension" in the relationship between politicians and the media. He also says that relationship is "inevitably going to be close".


    Mr Blair says he'd "like to make it clear right from the outset" that he feels British journalism, at its best, is the "best in the world".


    Counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC, who's sporting a rather dazzling stripey tie, asks Mr Blair whether he will be able to speak objectively. "I think I'm the worst person to say if I'm objective or not," the former PM replies.

    Brian, Newcastle

    emails: "A well rehearsed and choreographed performance so far"


    Referring to the Labour government that he led from 1997 to 2007, Mr Blair says: "I cannot believe we are the first and only government that has ever wanted to put the best possible gloss on what you're doing. I would be surprised if governments hadn't done that throughout the ages."

    But he stresses that it "is a completely different thing to saying that you go out to say things that are deliberately untrue".


    Tony Blair arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice by car, shortly before he was due to start giving evidence.

    Tony Blair arriving at the Leveson Inquiry
    Amy Tee

    tweets: Regards the Leveson inquiry, when I walked past earlier, there appeared to be more journos than protestors.


    Mr Blair says that the biggest problem with journalism is when the boundary between news stories and comment becomes "blurred". It stops being journalism at that point and becomes a political instrument, he says.


    As Mr Blair began to give evidence, anti-war protesters held up a doll depicting the former prime minister outside the inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice.

    A doll of Tony Blair
    Geraint Jones from Wiltshire

    emails: How can anything Mr Blair says be 'objective'? The King of Spin will have been well rehearsed and will never admit to doing anything innapropriate. As a Socialist, I wonder how mant of his million pound fortune will be used in presenting an image of 'perfection'?


    Ofcom is the right body to decide issues of media policy, Mr Blair says. He doesn't evisage it replacing the Press Complaints Commission, he adds.

    Frank from Harrogate

    texts: Whatever you think of Blair politically or personally he's far and away a better communicator than anyone in government today.


    The protester carrying the doll pictured below - with the slogan "Blair: the day of judgement" - was interviewed by the Press Association outside court. Londoner Mary Macmillan, 78, said: "I was a 1997 Labour Party person when Blair got his majority and I'm afraid he's proved a great let-down.

    "We got very few things that he promised. The war in Afghanistan is the greatest treachery. I'm glad we could get here today because it's very difficult to get hold of Blair."

    Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: (Blair clearly thinks this'll be ok - his twitter account is tweeting link to live feed @tonyblairoffice)


    We're now into a lengthy discussion on media coverage of Europe. Mr Blair says the Times newspaper is "Eurosceptic" but still reports the issue of Europe "fairly".

    Des from Rotherham

    emails: This man is a true politician, answers nothing and talks over people that he can't answer.


    "The Sun and the Mail, frankly, are the two most powerful of the papers," says Mr Blair.

    Lorna Wilde

    He's good isn't he? He has real style. Cameron must be watching this and weeping. #Blair


    Rupert Murdoch gets his first mention today, as Mr Blair discusses the importance of the Sun as a paper that is influential but has changed its political views over the decades. "Rupert Murdoch is not actually an identikit right-wing person," Mr Blair says.

    Molly Moggs

    tweets: Pretty impressed by #Blair so far. He's making a very coherent case for the distinction between tabloids and other press.

    Peter Hunt News correspondent

    tweets: Leveson: Blair on Murdoch -- I wouldn't describe him as a tribal Tory. #Leveson #hacking


    Mr Blair says that anyone falling out with the "controlling element" of the Daily Mail will be subject to a "huge and sustained attack".

    Danny Harris

    Most of the people who had close contacts with the Murdoch Empire have had selective memory.The King of Spin is among them.

    Lauren Laverne, BBC Radio 6 presenter

    tweets: Sound is down in the studio so can't hear #Leveson, but we have all been hypnotised by Blair's "honesty hands". It should be a dance.


    Mr Blair on the importance of the country's best-selling daily newspaper: "Was it important to get the Sun on board? Absolutely. They do represent a certain strain of support Labour might have had but hadn't had during the 1980s and early 1990s."

    Peter Jackson from Preston, Lancs

    emails: Blair is making a powerful statement about the power of the press, especially the Daily Mail. Does make you wonder if they got too close to News International in order to push back against the Mail?

    James McConkey

    tweets: Blair putting on a brilliant display, you can clearly see why he was Prime Minister


    Rebekah Brooks now becomes a topic. Mr Jay, while brandishing a red pen, glances up and asks if Mr Blair had got too close to her when he was in power. Mr Blair says a lot of his meetings and calls with her were "towards the end" of his time in office, and that he was "pretty close" to anyone still offering him support in that period, when his popularity had faded.

    Susan from Isle of Benbecula

    emails: Will someone please clamp his hands to the chair? Hearing his drivel is bad enough, but the arm-waving is driving me to distraction.


    Mr Blair follows up his discussion about Rebekah Brooks by putting the position of the former Sun editor and News International chief executive in some context. "Bluntly," he says "the decision maker was not Rebekah Brooks". He explains that at all times he felt that Rupert Murdoch was "key decision maker" at the media group.

    Martin from London

    emails: Mr Blair keeps saying "Look ..." as if he were in command of proceedings. I would very much like Robert Jay to go into "attack dog" mode as he has done with others. Somehow I doubt it will happen.


    A spot of paper-shuffling ensuses. Mr Jay leafs through a document and goes through a few points of clarification with Mr Blair about how many meetings he's had with various people.

    Dominic Rose from Isle of Man

    emails: So it seems that he's saying the tabloids don't just report policy, they seek to influence or halt it depending on their political bias, and do so fairly successfully. So much for politicians heeding the mandate from the electorate.


    Mr Jay is now moving on to the build-up to start of the war in Iraq and asking Mr Blair about his relationship with the media at the time. "This was a huge issue, obviously," says Mr Blair.

    He says he had three chats with Rupert Murdoch in the run-up to the war. He had conversations with newspaper editors too, he points out.

    Richard Armitage from Birkenhead

    texts: Someone please make Mr Blair stop repeating the words 'frankly' and 'bluntly'? Almost a verbal tic.

    Jim from Yeovil

    texts: Blair is so accomplished. He makes the current crop of politicians look like rank amateurs - with the exception of Mr Miliband (David not Ed).


    For the first time, Lord Leveson speaks directly to Tony Blair as he expresses interest in how the Labour Party viewed the power wielded by the News International newspapers in the aftermath of the party's defeat in the 1992 election.

    "They were powerful but there were others that were powerful as well," is the gist of the former PM's long reply.


    What if the main media blocs, including the ones owned by Rupert Murdoch, had opposed the Labour Party in the 1997 election, Mr Blair asks rhetorically. He provides the answer himself: "My view is we would still have won."

    Continuing to refer to the influence of the press, Mr Blair gestures towards himself, indicating the government he led. "We were sometimes guilty of ascribing to them a power that they ultimately don't really have and actually have less today than I think back then."


    Lord Leveson calls for a short break for the court.

    Andy Hutchcraft

    Blair looks a different person since his strained, defensive appearance at the Iraq Inquiry.

    Alexander Lowe

    tweets: Break at Leveson inquiry, interesting to see Blair admit (in as many words) that he was basically in thrall to the Murdoch empire.


    More on Blair's bodyguards - the BBC's Peter Hunt reports that there are three inside the inquiry room, and three outside.


    And they're back in the court room.


    Mr Jay is making plenty of references to Andrew Neil's book Disclosure, looking back at the political scene of the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps someone should point out that the book's actually called Full Disclosure.

    Natalie Peck

    Back at ‪#Leveson‬. Blair: I saw an ability to go out there and persuade the Murdoch group, as with others, as important.


    Lord Leveson is addressing Mr Blair directly again, asking him whether his attempts in the 1990s to court the support of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers could be described as a "charm offensive" and whether he had to "calibrate what Mr Murdoch would have wanted to hear".

    Kenneth Hobbs from Worthing

    emails: I certainly feel Mr Blair is clear in his recollections of over 18 years ago and I do feel he is answering Mr Jay very well. He is, however, just seeking to confirm how ALL political parties have been in the pockets of the press and media in this country.


    Mr Blair's frequent gesticulations have been the subject of many comments already so far from a fair few people watching the coverage. Here's the sort of thing that his hands have been getting up to this morning.

    Tony Blair
    James Stevenson from Middlesbrough

    texts: Blair's break from politics has certainly benefited his well being, turning back the years with this performance. This is why he was Prime Minister


    Mr Blair was given an angry reception from about 25 protesters when he arrived this morning, who waved banners reading "Troops home", "Bliar" and "Afghanistan out". It is clear they are protesting about his role in committing the UK to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than his relationship with the media.

    Daily Telegraph's Benedict Brogan

    TB on attacks: 'I hate that type of politics and did not engage in it'. Unlike the guy next door, he means. Slap to Brown ‪#leveson‬


    Mr Blair is asked about a couple of meetings he had many years ago, which were written about by former Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell in his book. Mr Blair says that he's happy to accept Mr Campbell's version of those events, quickly leading to a tweet from Mr Campbell himself. "Publisher will be pleased TB endorsing diaries as accurate account!" he writes.


    Lord Leveson again addresses Mr Blair directly and says he has one question that he'd like an answer to. "Was managing the press interfering with the time you had available to solve the most important questions you had to solve and what you did about that?" he asks.

    The former PM, who is calling Lord Leveson "Sir" every time he speaks to him, assures him that the phone calls he had to make tended to be very short.

    Carl Eatson

    Is Blair trying to pitch himself as the greatest PM we ever had? It's I did this, I did that, Im great... he never changes


    Mr Blair is pressed on how close his friendship was - and is - with Rebekah Brooks. He responds that it became closer once he left office and he was "free from the constraints".

    Asked by Mr Jay whether he had contacted Mrs Brooks to sympathise with her leaving her New International post in the wake of the hacking scandal, he says: "I'm somebody who doesn't believe in being a fair-weather friend and obviously I said I was very sorry for her."


    Mr Blair says he was "pretty ambivalent" about Sarah's Law, a campaign backed by the News of the World and Rebekah Brooks, which allows parents to request safety checks on adults with access to their children. It is often cited as one of the former editor's biggest successes in journalism.

    "I understood why she thought it was a big problem. The trouble with any of these campaigns is if you're not careful, the way they're conducted ends up getting out of hand," says the ex-PM.

    James Al

    tweets:‪#Blair‬ on time as Prime Minister: "you begin at your most popular and least capable and end at your least popular and most capable" ‪#Leveson‬

    1217: Breaking News

    The court has been interrupted by a shouting protester, calling Mr Blair a war criminal.


    The protester was a man in a white shirt who began his court interruption by saying "Excuse me." His politeness ended there, however, as he then began shouting that Mr Blair was a "war criminal" and made further accusations that the former PM had been paid off.

    The protester continued to make further accusations, while clinging on to a desk with both hands. He has to do this because a security guard had both arms wrapped round his chest and was desperately trying to drag him away. In the end, he was pushed out the room by three guards.

    Lord Leveson is now quietly but firmly asking how the protester managed to get into the courtroom, "through what is supposed to be a secure corridor".


    This is the dramatic moment that an unidentified protester, dressed in a white shirt, briefly disrupted the proceedings

    Protestor interupts proceedings at the Leveson Inquiry
    Simon from Leeds

    texts: Blair handles the intrusion with super composure, and even addresses his points.


    The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson has written a blog in which he says Tony Blair opened his evidence to the Leveson inquiry with a guilty plea, but in doing so was really preparing to declare himself innocent on a much more serious charge.

    Jack Thomas from Liverpool

    emails: Well done to that protester, Blair is trying to come across as a nice sort of guy when in fact he bears part of the responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

    Dean Glover

    just watched the mad protester calling ‪#Blair‬ a war criminal etc live... nothing like watching current affairs unfold in realtime ‪#Leveson‬

    Nick Robinson Political editor

    tweets: Blair denies protester's claim but says nature of modern journalism means he'll get more coverage than what anyone else says

    Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: For those who missed it the protester got in behind #leveson himself; little wonder judge looked furious

    Leandra Briggs from Wallingford

    emails: Blair talks about the desirability of "competition in media ownership". And look at what has actually happened! Thank heavens for the internet and social media (so mistrusted by Blair, because it cannot be controlled) as a counterpoint.


    One more point about the protester - Mr Blair denied all the claims the man shouted out in court, saying that "for the record" were "completely and totally untrue". A sympathetic Lord Leveson said that the former PM did not need to give any response at all and apologised for the disruption.

    Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Blair confirms he asked Murdoch straight out whether he'd back them at meeting in 2000, was told Murdoch wd #leveson


    For those who missed it, here's the footage from the moment when a protester burst into the Leveson Inquiry and hurled accusations about the Iraq war at Tony Blair before being bundled out of Court 73.


    Mr Blair says the strongest lobbying he had from any media outlet during his time as prime minister was from the BBC over the licence fee.


    The inquiry has now broken for lunch. You can expect Lord Leveson to be giving someone a grilling over how an intruder popped up right behind where he was sitting.


    The protestor apparently told reporters his name was David Lawley- Wakelin and he was from the Alternative Iraq Enquiry. He spoke as security guards escorted him away.

    Andrew Neil Presenter, BBC Daily Politics

    tweets: Interesting - despite all Jay QCs mentions of me and my book at #Leveson and 5,500 words of requested evidence they don't want to call me.


    Away from the High Court, police investigating phone hacking have arrested a 42-year-old woman on suspicion of money laundering offences. Of course, it was allegations of hacking at the News of the World that sparked this inquiry in the first place.


    City University journalism professor Ivor Gaber tells BBC Radio 4's World at One there was a sea change in the nature of the links between politicians and newspapers under Mr Blair. He says he identified with News International in particular, creating a relationship and giving scoops to them.

    Alastair Campbell

    tweets: Ivor Gaber on r4 says we gave Sun election dates and Hutton report. Totally untrue

    Louise Mensch MP

    tweets: Lord Justice #Leveson dealt with protestor with great dignity. As a nation we do need to beef up our security arrangements at these things.


    According to the Press Association, the Leveson protester has told reporters his name is David Lawley-Wakelin and he's from campaign group the Alternative Iraq Enquiry. Following his intervention, #Blair, War Criminal and David Lawley-Wakelin are trending on Twitter in the UK.

    Adam, in Brighton,

    emails: Blair has handled himself with care and precision reminiscent of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think the question on everyone's lips is when will he make a resurgence in British politics?


    The protester has been arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace and is in custody at a central London police station, a Metropolitan Police spokesman says.

    David Gwilliam, in Exmouth, Devon,

    emails: It could be the protester will have the biggest impact today, but was Blair right to defend himself? I think it would have been better to have ignored it!


    The inquiry is back up and running again now with Tony Blair still in the hot seat. Lord Justice Leveson begins with a few words about the protester who intervened earlier - stating again that an investigation will be carried out and he will consider how to deal with the individual in question.


    Lord Justice Leveson adds that he "very much regrets" the interruption this morning.

    Hashim, in Yorkshire,

    Tony Blair the war criminal? I believe my fellow Kosovans would disagree. He led Nato into our country when we had huge problems... Blair helped us.

    Stop the War Coalition

    tweets: Brilliant! Anti-war protestor gets within feet of #Blair at #Leveson and makes "This man is a war criminal" statement.

    Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Blair #leveson: Sun overstepped mark with front page on Brown letter to serviceman's family, raised with Brooks

    Peter Hunt News correspondent

    Leveson: inside Court 73 one of Blair's bodyguards is sitting right next to me. I feel instantly guilty. #Leveson #hacking


    Mr Blair says he was on the brink of dismissing Labour MP and former minister Tom Watson from his government in 2006 when Mr Watson resigned. Mr Blair described Mr Watson as a "prime organiser" of a so-called coup against him in September of that year.


    emails: Blair is Cameron's best ally and defender right now. He's almost cleared this Government of its shady image in a few short answers.

    Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Jay says @tom_watson was bringing postman pat dvd to Brown on famous visit ... Blair: Yeah, I'm sure #leveson

    Gwyn Jones, Cardiff, Wales,

    emails: I would appreciate Mr Jay intervening more often to stop Mr Blair waffling - it seems to me that all Mr Blair is doing is trying to deviate from answering the question.

    Nick Robinson Political editor

    tweets: Blair reveals that his wife Cherie instructed lawyers to challenge press coverage on more than 30 occasions #Leveson


    Mr Blair criticises press attacks on his wife and children, which he describes as unnecessary and wrong. He also says that the Daily Mail carried out a "personal vendetta" against his wife, Cherie. Her solicitors sent at least 30 legal warnings to the Mail from mid-2006 to Nov 2011 over its coverage of her, Mr Blair says.


    The court service responsible for staging the Leveson Inquiry has issued a statement about today's interruption.

    It reads: "Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service take security very seriously at all of their venues. An investigation has been ordered into an incident at the Leveson inquiry, Royal Courts of Justice today. It would be inappropriate to pre-empt the findings on this investigation".


    Mr Blair recounts a tale of a government minister who came to offer his resignation, because he had read in the press that the prime minister was about to sack him. "I literally tried to spend half an hour persuading him I wasn't going to sack him, but it was no use. He was convinced because he'd read it." The former PM does not name the former colleague at the centre of this tale.

    Andrew Dougherty from London

    emails: I'm watching Mr Blair, with the sound off (the best way I think), and his body language is fascinating. Using his hands either as a shield, or as tennis racquets, to lob the questions back at Mr Jay. Whilst appearing cool and calm, he is very much on the defensive.


    After Lord Justice Leveson points out that the PCC code of conduct demands that all newspapers differentiate clearly between comment and fact, Mr Blair says he has long believed that certain papers do not abide by that.


    Mr Blair is pressed on claims that former minister Peter Mandelson and spin doctor Alastair Campbell briefed against people. "The fact is, I never authorised or said to someone 'go out and brief against'. I hate that, it's the lowest form of politics."

    James from Nottingham

    emails: Is Leveson going to call some typical Sun, Mail or other readers to talk about what makes them buy papers? Or is everyone just going to keep making assumptions as to what sells papers, and therefore what they write about?


    Mr Jay looks directly at Mr Blair and asks if he's ruling in or out a statutory underpinning for an independent system of press complaints. "I'm certainly not ruling it out," says the former PM.

    "The important thing is it is independent of government and media, that it is capable of investigating, adjudicating and taking action, and that it is seen genuinely to be a place where people can go if they've got a legitimate complaint and get legitimate redress."


    Lord Justice Leveson asks whether such regulation can work if papers are able to opt in or out of it. Mr Blair responds: "In other walks of life, you can't have that." The judge adds: "In other walks of life, you certainly can't have that."


    Mr Jay says those are all the questions he has for Mr Blair but Lord Justice Leveson indicates he wants a little more insight from the former PM in the area of the best way to regulate the press.


    Lord Justice Leveson says he believes any effective complaints system must be framed so that it works for those who can least afford to take action against the media, it can deal with complaints speedily and will be effective. It's a fairly lengthy explanation - he says he is just throwing out ideas and has yet to invite Mr Blair to add his own comments.


    Lord Justice Leveson says that it is critically important that there is a political consensus on how to regulate the media.


    Labour MP Tom Watson has written a response on his website to Mr Blair's denial that he received emails from Rebekah Brooks regarding Mr Watson's resignation. "[A] former Secretary of State, who is considered very close to Tony Blair, told me there is evidence to show Rebekah Brooks made the offer to exact retribution for the resignation," he says, adding: "I think it probably best that I say no more on this matter. It's better we all move on."


    The judge still seems tickled by a comment made by Jeremy Paxman when the BBC Newsnight presenter gave evidence last week. He recounts to Mr Blair that when he said he hoped his final report wouldn't just end up on the second shelf of some journalism professor's study, Paxman quickly quipped: "As high as the second shelf?"

    "That sounds like Jeremy," adds a smiling Mr Blair, possibly recalling times when political friends and foes were put in line by Paxman.


    Lord Justice Leveson thanks Mr Blair and the court rises. The former prime minister's testimony has come to an end.

    Media commentator Roy Greenslade

    tweets ‪#Leveson‬: 3.12pm close! Blair handled matters with calm aplomb. One big plus: he explained his media strategy more candidly than ever before.


    The BBC's Robin Brant reports that an egg was thrown at and hit the car carrying Mr Blair as he left the Royal Courts of Justice.


    The BBC's Nick Robinson says that there might have been more "persistent and tough questioning" for Mr Blair about a range of issues, including Labour changing the law in order to make it easier to have foreign ownership of media companies. "He was asked [about] them all, but I don't think he'll feel that he was put really in any uncomfortable position on any one of them."

    Fi Wainwright

    tweets: Tony Blair given easy ride on ‪#Leveson‬ and shown way too deferation and engagement in his ideas on media landscape...I'm not impressed

    Dave from Abergavenny

    emails: Is Leveson Inquiry an attempt to take everyone's minds of the economy and real problems we have in the UK at the moment?

    Hannah Cutting

    tweets: So there's going to be an immediate inquiry into the security of the ‪#Leveson‬ inquiry? This could go on and on...


    That concludes our live page coverage of Tony Blair's appearance at the Leveson Inquiry. Tomorrow sees Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May take to the stand.


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