Hacking trial: ‘Set up a Hutton-style inquiry’, Tony Blair told Rebekah Brooks as scandal broke

Former PM offered to become unofficial adviser to the Murdochs, jury told at hacking trial

Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks to launch a “Hutton-style” inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World as the issue erupted into a criminal and political scandal in 2011, a jury has heard.

The former prime minister is alleged to have offered to become a secret "unofficial adviser" to Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Mrs Brooks, according to an email revealed at the Old Bailey on Wednesday.

He is said to have told Mrs Brooks during an hour-long phone conversation when she was still chief executive of News International that an "independent unit" made up of lawyers and "a great and good type" should investigate her and publish a "Hutton-style report".

The 2003 inquiry chaired by Lord Hutton was set up by the Blair government to investigate the death of the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kelly.

Mr Blair suggested that the former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, be invited to investigate, according to the email.

Mrs Brooks claimed Mr Blair also advised that the first part of the inquiry should be published "at the same time" as the police investigation into phone hacking concluded and would "clear you" - while the second should be released "when any trials are over".

The court heard that the former prime minister, now head of an international political consultancy firm, told Mrs Brooks that her difficulties "will pass".

Mrs Brooks' account of Mr Blair's advice was sent to James Murdoch on July 11, 2011, a week after it emerged that the News of the World had hacked the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. At the time, he was head of News Corp in the UK and Europe. Rupert Murdoch had already announced the closure of the NoW amid continuing political pressure that his company's involvement in illegal practices should be investigated through a judicial inquiry. Mrs Brooks was arrested six days later.

The content of the Brooks-Murdoch email was read out to the jury in the hacking trial as the prosecution closed its case after presenting three months of evidence. Tony Blair with Rebekah Brooks in 2004 Tony Blair with Rebekah Brooks in 2004

Mrs Brooks will open her defence on Thursday. She is charged with conspiracy to illegally intercept phone messages, bribing public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She denies all the charges against her.

As part of the crown's opening last November, the court heard Mrs Brooks had sent James Murdoch an email on 8 July, the day after the NoW closure was announced.

Under the subject heading "Plan B", she suggested that the "result of [the] report when published" would "slam Les. Colin etc and it will vindicate my position (or not)." Les Hinton is a former executive at News Corp, while Colin Myler was the NoW's last editor.

In the email, the court heard Mrs Brooks suggested to Mr Murdoch that he "leaked" an internal statement which admitted NI was wrong to accept the conclusion of Scotland Yard's hacking investigation in 2007 and that "we failed to hold the right people accountable".

Mrs Brooks suggested that the law firm Olswang should internally review previous investigations and probe the new allegations. She wrote: "NI will publish the findings of this report and where there were serious failings or errors of judgement those culpable would be held accountable and leave the company."

She then asked Mr Murdoch: "What do you think?"

Although describing herself in the email as "ring fenced clearly and properly", she accepted that the report "will be written as a slippery slope for me but I hardly have any reputation left".

She claimed Mr Blair told her he was "available for you [James Murdoch], KRM [Rupert Murdoch] and me "as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us". Her email concludes by saying that Mr Blair will be "sending more notes later".

The former Labour leader's advice to Mrs Brooks came as his successor Ed Miliband was heading parliamentary demands that Mr Murdoch's News Corp withdraw its bid for full control of BSkyB.

Mr Miliband was the leading voice in July 2011 challenging the organisation and calling for a judicial investigation into phone hacking at UK newspapers. Downing Street announced on 13 July that Lord Justice Leveson would lead to a full judicial inquiry.

On Wednesday night Mr Blair's office issued a statement saying he had simply given informal advice over the phone. It said: "He made it absolutely clear to Ms Brooks that, though he knew nothing personally about the facts of the case, in a situation as serious as this it was essential to have a fully transparent and independent process to get to the bottom of what had happened.

"That inquiry should be led by credible people, get all  the facts out there and that if anything wrong were found there should be immediate action taken and the changes to the organisation made so that they could not happen again," it added.

The case continues.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there