Leveson Inquiry: Tony Blair claims media vendetta against Cherie
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 today.
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," he said. "After I left I got to know him and the relationship can be easier and better. Now ‘s different and it’s not the same, I don’t feel the same pressures."
He said the "appalling things" that happened at Mr Murdoch's newspaper, the News of the World, during the phone-hacking scandal were not a barrier to a "frankly healthier" relationship now that he is no longer prime minister.
Mr Blair also revealed that 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 in relation to phone-hacking.
He said he was "no fair-weather friend" to Mrs Brooks and told her he was "sorry" to hear about her troubles over the scandal.
Mr Blair's appearance comes at the start of a high-profile week for the Leveson Inquiry, with beleaguered 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.
He will be challenged over whether his public expressions of support for the bid were compatible with the quasi-judicial role he was given by Prime Minister David Cameron.
There was unconfirmed speculation this weekend that Mr Cameron himself is due to appear two weeks later, on Thursday June 14, and that Chancellor George Osborne could yet be called to give evidence in person.
Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May will appear on Tuesday and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on Wednesday.
Also due to give evidence on Wednesday is Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was stripped of the role of deciding whether the bid could proceed last December after he was secretly recorded saying he had "declared war" on Mr Murdoch.
Mr Hunt had asked for his appearance before the inquiry to be brought forward so he could give his side of the story as soon as possible, but was rebuffed by Lord Justice Leveson.
The inquiry has been presented with a cache of emails showing that News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel received inside information about the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's handling of the bid from Mr Hunt's former special adviser Adam Smith, who quit last month after admitting he went too far in acting as a point of contact with the company.
Last week, the inquiry published a memo sent by the Culture Secretary to Mr Cameron in November 2010, weeks before he took on the quasi-judicial role, in which he appeared to be making the case for News Corp's bid to go ahead.
Mr Hunt insists that he oversaw the process "with scrupulous fairness throughout" and has received strong backing from the Prime Minister.
But Mr Cameron has also said that if anything arises from the inquiry that suggests the ministerial code might have been breached, he will call in his independent ethics adviser Sir Alex Allan or take immediate action himself.