Sunday 22 April 2018

Journalists had long vendetta against my wife, says Tony Blair

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking at the Leveson Inquiry. Photo: PA
Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking at the Leveson Inquiry. Photo: PA

Rowena Mason in London

Journalists waged a "personal vendetta" against Cherie Blair, who took or considered legal action over media reports more than 30 times in five years, Tony Blair told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.

He said some comment was "legitimate" but at times criticism was taken "too far".

The former prime minister said Mrs Blair -- a barrister -- had taken or considered legal action about media reports more than 30 times in five years.

"I think a certain amount of comment is perfectly legitimate," Mr Blair said. "I think some of the papers, particularly the Mail group, took it too far and it turned into a personal vendetta."

He said checks with Mrs Blair's solicitors showed that legal action had been taken or considered more than 30 times between 2006 and 2011.

"I thought, and do think, that the attacks on her and my children were unnecessary and wrong," Mr Blair said.

"I just don't think it is part of the political debate."

He added: "What I think is wrong is where sections of the media -- and again I emphasise it is sections -- where powerful people say, 'right we are going to go for that person'.

"And then what happens is they go for you. And, as I say, it's full-on, full frontal.

"That's not journalism. In my view it's an abuse of power. It's not necessary to do it.

"I feel that some of the stuff crossed the line."

Earlier in the hearing Mr Blair said he only became the godfather of Rupert Murdoch's daughter as their friendship became "easier and better" after he left Downing Street, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.

The former prime minister spoke for the first time about becoming the godfather to Grace Murdoch in 2010, as he was asked about becoming too close to the media tycoon.

Mr Blair insisted he only had a "working relationship" with the newspaper proprietor, rather than a "cosy" one, while he was in office.

But he described how this developed into a friendship once there were no longer the "pressures" of needing support from Mr Murdoch's newspapers. "I would never have become a godfather of his child on the basis of my relationship in office."

Perverting

He said the "appaling things" that happened at the 'News of the World', during the phone-hacking scandal were not a barrier to a "frankly healthier" relationship with Mr Murdoch now that he was no longer prime minister.

Mr Blair also revealed he has been in touch with Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of Mr Murdoch's newspaper business, who has been charged with perverting the course of justice. He said he was "no fair-weather friend" to Mrs Brooks and told her he was "sorry" to hear about her troubles.

Mr Blair's appearance comes at the start of a high-profile week for the Leveson Inquiry, with beleaguered British 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. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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