Downing St 'made 12 calls about funeral'
A detailed account of the clash between Black Rod and Downing Street over plans for the Queen Mother's funeral fuels the ongoing spin row in Westminster today.
Reports in The Mail on Sunday appear to be based on in-depth briefings from sources close to Black Rod, Sir Michael Willcocks. But Downing Street has issued a strong statement again denying the veracity of the account and reaffirming its own 29-page version of events, published on Friday.
Though never directly quoting from the "killer memo" written by Black Rod to the Press Complaints Commission, which was investigating complaints against The Mail on Sunday, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, the paper claims Sir Michael told the PCC there was "sustained and constant pressure" for changes to the lying-in-state ceremony. Downing Street officials, the memo is reported to have said, made "at least a dozen phone calls" about the issue.
It asserts that Black Rod said the original report by The Mail on Sunday was "100 per cent accurate" and that had The Spectator "chosen to express the allegations in a different way, it could not have been faulted".
There are also claims that Clare Sumner, Tony Blair's private secretary, visited Black Rod to urge him to endorse a statement denying the reports.
His refusal prompted Ms Sumner to cite a 1994 plan that said the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would be at Westminster Hall when the coffin arrived. He told her Downing Street was in possession of an official plan and added he knew nothing of the 1994 document.
The paper claims Black Rod's refusal to endorse Number 10's denial had been presaged by a warning when the story first broke on 11 April. He wrote a "narrow and precise" hand-written statement stating he had "not been asked to change the arrangements".
The Mail on Sunday insists Black Rod then added, apparently referring to Downing street pressure over the ceremony: "I am not prepared to lie over this. You are making a mistake. We both know what really happened and if anybody looks around the edges, it won't take them very long to discover that it is basically true."
Following Ms Sumner's intervention, another Number 10 official, Simon Virley, is reported to have pressed the Downing Street case.
The newspaper claimed that between the Queen Mother's death on 30 March and the procession to Westminster on 5 April, Black Rod's office buzzed with complaints from staff about Downing Street's attempts to "muscle in" – a charge Mr Blair said was "as offensive as it is completely and totally untrue".
It alleges that, on the morning of 5 April, a detective with Black Rod at the entrance to Westminster Hall received a call from one of the Prime Minister's protection officers saying Mr Blair "intended", Black Rod is said to have told the PCC, to walk across from No 10. He was advised against it. Downing Street said these claims were false and in the event the Prime Minister drove.
A Downing Street statement last night said: "This changes absolutely nothing. This is a colourful, partial and tendentious account by a newspaper trying to prove a story that it knows to be wrong. We stand by every single word in the document we released on Friday.
"The Prime Minister and his officials did nothing wrong or improper in relation to the events surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
"Their intentions throughout were quite the reverse, as the documents we published showed."
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