'Your lies killed my son...' Blair fails to pacify critics in torrid inquiry session

Michael Savage,Terri Judd
Saturday 22 January 2011 01:00
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Tony Blair finally expressed regret yesterday for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost during the Iraq invasion, only for his long-awaited words to be met with anger by the families of some of those who lost their lives.

In emotional scenes at the Chilcot inquiry, the former Prime Minister was heckled as he said he regretted "deeply and profoundly the loss of life". Calls of "Too late" broke out as Mr Blair spoke, with one woman turning her back on him. Two others left. Rose Gentle, whose son, Gordon, was killed in Basra in 2004, shouted as Mr Blair left the hearing: "Your lies killed my son. I hope you can live with it."

During his four and a half hours of evidence, Mr Blair shed new light on the extent of the promises he made to George W Bush about Britain's readiness to join in military action. In a candid admission of the assurances he gave the president during meetings and notes sent to him in 2002, Mr Blair said he had made clear Britain would be "up for" joining an invasion if necessary.

"What I was saying to the president was very clear and simple: you can count on us. We are going to be with you on this. I'm not going to back out because the going gets tough," Mr Blair said he told President Bush. "But here are the difficulties and this is why I think the UN route is the right way to go."

He also admitted keeping the US president in the dark over Lord Goldsmith, his chief legal adviser, who had initially concluded the March 2003 invasion would be illegal without further clearance from the United Nations. Mr Blair said he had to continue to support the US in military action, even though he knew he may have to withdraw that support if Lord Goldsmith had not changed his mind over the legality of the war at the last minute.

"I was having to hold that line," he said. "But I wasn't going to be in a position where I stepped back until I knew I had to." He said airing the doubts of the former attorney general may have led the US to believe Britain was wavering in its support. But he rejected that he had given President Bush a "blank cheque" on dealing with Saddam. He said he should have involved Lord Goldsmith in discussions from an earlier stage, but repeated his claim that he would not have sanctioned the use of force if his attorney general had ultimately deemed it to be illegal. Confronted with accusations that he had cut out problematic cabinet ministers from discussions on Iraq, Mr Blair admitted that many were not given key documents about how Britain's policy on Iraq was evolving.

Mr Blair also continued his attack on Iran, blaming it for destabilising Iraq and suggesting military action may become necessary against the "looming, coming challenge" it posed. He said Iran had to be met with the "requisite determination and, if necessary, force".

John Brown, whose son Nicholas Brown, 34, an SAS sergeant, died north of Baghdad in 2008, said he had sat through Mr Blair's evidence in disgust. "It resembled someone like Al Capone or John Gotti giving evidence in court when he knows he has bought off the judge and jury. I nearly threw up. It made everyone in there nearly sick because the man has got no regrets at all," he said. "In my view, the only way they are going to nail this guy is in a court of law, being examined by serious barristers. This inquiry is not being rigorous enough. Every time they get him on the hook, they then back off."

Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun, 28, was killed in 2003, added: "To be human, he must have some regrets. I would love to paint him as some sort of monster but he is still a human being and it must affect him. He did look worried and under pressure so it must be taking its toll, not that I regret that. It is no more than he deserves."

Newly released documents revealed Mr Blair told close aides in 2002 he wanted to pressure for a more "gung-ho" approach to dealing with Saddam. In a note, dated 17 March, he complained he was struggling to persuade people of the case for removing the dictator and needed to launch an offensive to change minds. In another secret note, Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, warned that if plans for the post-war period were not ready "We should not rush this. If we are not ready in January 2003 then we may need to wait for autumn 2003".

Mr Blair made it clear that he had blocked the publication of key memos he sent to President Bush from the summer of 2002. In the 106 questions put to Mr Blair in writing by the inquiry team before his appearance, references to the memos were redacted. Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, reiterated that he was "disappointed" that their publication had been blocked after a ruling by Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary.

Moving On: What the ex-PM did after Iraq

*By tradition, British Prime Ministers have tended to slope off quietly into obscurity on completing their term in office. Tony Blair has taken a more profitable path, building up a portfolio of advisory roles and properties that are thought have earned him at least £20m since leaving Downing Street.

*Mr Blair reportedly received a £600,000 signing-up fee when he added his name to the list of luminaries employed by the Washington Speakers' Bureau. He is also paid around £100,000 for each of his 90-minute speaking engagements. He has given motivational speeches to Lansdowne Partners, a hedge fund that made millions on the collapse of bank shares during the financial crisis.

*His role advising the chief executive and senior management team at JP Morgan, the US investment bank, is said to be earning him another £2m a year. He is also paid £500,000 a year for an advisory role with Zurich Financial Services.

*An undisclosed fee was paid to Mr Blair to advise the Korean oil firm UI Energy. The company has extensive interests in Iraq. His own firm, Tony Blair Associates, was paid £1m to advise the Kuwaiti royal family. But the £4.6m advance he received for his memoirs, A Journey, was donated to the Royal British Legion.

*Estimates have put the value of the property owned by Mr Blair and his wife Cherie at as much as £14m. This includes the couple's £3.5m home in west London's Connaught Square. A £1.3m Grade II listed townhouse in Marylebone was bought for their eldest son Euan in April 2010 – a relative bargain at £200,000 under the asking price. The Blairs also have a £4m mansion, the 17th-century South Pavilion, in Buckinghamshire, which was once owned by Sir John Gielgud.

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