Blair offered to act as Murdoch’s secret adviser, court told

February 20, 2014 - 10:49:21 am
LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair offered to act as a secret adviser to Rupert Murdoch during his media empire’s phone-hacking scandal, suggesting the firm follow steps he took to calm public anger over the Iraq war, a London court heard yesterday.

Rebekah Brooks, the ex-boss of Murdoch’s British newspapers, wrote an email to Murdoch’s son James detailing advice Blair had given her during an hour-long phone call in July 2011 at the height of a furore over phone-hacking allegations at the media mogul’s News of the World tabloid.

The disclosure came as the prosecution wrapped up its case against Brooks, who is on trial at London’s Old Bailey on charges relating to phone-hacking which she denies.

“He (Blair) is available to you, KRM and me as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us,” said the email from Brooks to James Murdoch, who at the time ran News Corp operations in Britain. KRM refers to Rupert Murdoch’s initials.

Brooks said Blair had counselled: “It will pass. Tough up.” Four days later she quit her job and she was arrested by police two days after that.

The email was sent the day after News Corp closed the 168-year-old News of the World in the face of huge public anger over revelations that its staff had hacked into the voicemail messages of a murdered 

schoolgirl.

Blair’s suggestions to Brooks contrast with a public statement he made three days before their phone call, when he had denounced the hacking scandal as “beyond disgusting”.

The email also demonstrates just how close Brooks and Rupert Murdoch were to Britain’s elite, a relationship critics said allowed him to use his British newspapers to influence politicians for the benefit of his business interests.

A spokesman for Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, said the former prime minister was “simply giving informal advice” and had made it clear to Brooks that in a such a serious situation it was vital to have “a fully transparent and independent process” to find out what had happened.

According to Brooks’s email, Blair’s advice included setting up an internal investigation, led by a member of the “great and the good”. The scenario he envisaged was based on the investigation which cleared him of any wrongdoing in the build-up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

“Get them to investigate me and others and publish a Hutton style report,” Brooks said in the email relaying the comments of Blair, who is godfather to one of Murdoch’s children.

“Publish part one of the report at same time as the police closes its inquiry and clear you and accept shortcomings and new solutions and process,” the email said. The reference to the Hutton inquiry could prove hugely embarrassing for the former Labour leader, who won three elections to lead Britain from 1997 to 2007 but who has had to repeatedly defend himself over his decision to join the United States in going to war in Iraq.

Lord Hutton was appointed by Blair to investigate the circumstances which led to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporting that the government had “sexed up” the case for the invasion of Iraq.

REUTERS
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