28 May 2012

Protester confronts Tony Blair during Leveson inquiry

As former prime minister Tony Blair gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry, a protester bursts in and accuses him of being a war criminal, while he denies ever agreeing a deal with Rupert Murdoch.

Proceedings were interrupted at one stage by the intrusion of a protester who shouted at Mr Blair “this man is a war criminal” before security guards bundled him out of the room. A clearly displeased Lord Justice Leveson ordered an investigation into how the man could have accessed the court through what was supposed to be a secure corridor and later assured the court that efforts would be “redoubled” to ensure such an intrusion would not happen again.

Mr Blair had earlier told the inquiry that he preferred to describe relations between top politicians and some elements of the press not as “cosy”, but “unhealthy”, describing a “relationship in which you feel this pretty intense power and need to deal with it… I decided as a political leader that I was going to manage it and not confront it”.

The former prime minister said that when he came into office with ambitions to tackle issues such as waiting lists or crime, he considered that it would be impossible to take on the media at the same time: “My view was that if in those circumstances, I had decided to take on the media and change the law .. this would have been a major confrontation with every part of the media against you.”

Follow our live blog of Mr Blair’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry

Mr Blair said of the tabloid press: “The bulk of the tabloid press writes in such a way that if they’re against a policy, part or person, it’s a pretty all-out affair.”

Calling the Sun and the Mail “the most important”, Mr Blair described how the Daily Mail had published articles attacking “me, my family, my children .. not just when in office, but subsequently too”.

Relationship with Rupert Murdoch

The former prime minister denied he had ever done a deal with Rupert Murdoch. Mr Blair famously flew to Hayman Island in Australia to address News Corp executives in 1995, as part of a Labour strategy to gain a hearing with newspapers which had savaged previous leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.

Mr Blair told the inquiry that as he believed in self-regulation by the media when he took office, there was no need for Mr Murdoch to lobby him over media policy. Instead he said that most conversations he had with Rupert Murdoch were on the subjects of politics, not media regulation, and described his relationship with Mr Murdoch as “a working relationship” until after he left office: “I would never have become a godfather to one of his children until after I left office”.

It emerged last year that he became the godfather to one of the media tycoon’s children in 2010.

Asked if he got too close to Rebekah Brooks – the former editor of the Sun – Mr Blair said “Rebekah Brooks was not the decision-maker”, but that Mr Murdoch was. Mr Blair defended sending a message of support to Ms Brooks last summer saying he was not a “fairweather friend.”

Mr Blair’ former lieutenant Lord Mandelson told the inquiry on Monday that the relationship with News International had become too close.

Lord Mandelson said it was, “arguably the case… that personal relationships between Mr Blair, (Gordon) Brown and Rupert Murdoch became closer than was wise”.

Mr Blair’s appearance comes at the start of a high-profile week for the Leveson inquiry, with under-fire Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt set to give evidence on Thursday.

Mr Hunt will also face a grilling over his office’s links with Mr Murdoch’s News Corp, particularly during its bid to take over the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.