Leveson invites defiant former PM to help him decide the future of press regulation

 

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has been invited to draw up proposals on how to regulate the press in future. In an unusual end to more than four hours of testimony, Lord Justice Leveson asked the former Prime Minister to join a select group of witnesses who will help guide his thinking in writing his final report.

The request will dismay those who believe Mr Blair is still too close to the Murdoch empire, as well as newspaper groups who feel he harbours grudges over the treatment he received while in office.

Mr Blair claimed:

* He had an entirely professional "working" relationship with Rupert Murdoch and said there was "nothing odd" about him ringing the mogul three times immediately before the Iraq war to brief him on the invasion. He said his relationship with Mr Murdoch only changed after he left Downing Street.

* Mr Murdoch did not lobby him directly over media policy when he was Prime Minister.

* The anti-European views of Mr Murdoch and News International did not affect government policy. "Europe was the major thing that he and I used to row about," he said. "I believed in what I was doing, I didn't need him or anyone else to tell me what to do."

* His director of media, Alastair Campbell, and ally Peter Mandelson did not bully journalists – a suggestion greeted with laughter in Fleet Street.

Mr Blair said he had sent Rebekah Brooks a message of support immediately after she resigned as chief executive of News International in the wake of the Milly Dowler phone-hacking revelations because "I'm somebody who doesn't believe in being a fair-weather friend."

But it was the request by Lord Justice Leveson to Mr Blair, pictured, to submit his ideas for how a regulatory regime of the future might look which will concern parts of the tabloid media.

"As a lawyer and a judge I am very used to looking backwards and deciding what has happened but it's not necessarily a given that a judge is the best person to make recommendations for the future," he said. "I recognise immediately that [this] is the task that was given to me last July by the Prime Minister. But because these are issues that you've thought about, if you can give me your view, I would be very grateful."

Lord Justice Leveson said he believed it was possible to construct a statutory – but independent – complaints body that could command the respect both of the press and public.

He added that any system which replaces the PCC should be able to provide financial redress to those who could not afford to litigate – with serious financial sanctions.

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