Revealed: Blair's talks with Murdoch on eve of war
Tania Branigan, political correspondent
Thursday July 19, 2007
Tony Blair spoke to Rupert Murdoch three times in nine days in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it emerged yesterday, after the government caved in to a four-year campaign for the release of details of their conversations and meetings.
The Cabinet Office agreed to publish the dates of their contacts one day after the former prime minister left office. No further details of the calls are available and no details of informal meetings or conversations have been disclosed.
In all Mr Blair held six formal conversations with the media baron between March 2003 and October 2004. The first three took place on March 11, 13 and 19; military action against Iraq began early on March 20. A broadcasting row involving the BBC and BSkyB was also taking place.
They spoke again on January 29 2004 - the day after the Sun's exclusive publication of the Hutton report's findings - and on April 25, shortly after Mr Blair agreed to hold a referendum on the EU treaty. They held a sixth conversation on October 3, two days after Mr Blair announced he would stand down after his third term.
Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury first requested details of contact between the men in October 2003, but had no success. He then filed a formal complaint under the Freedom of Information Act in April 2005, requesting details of meetings and conversations from September 2002.
Last July the information commissioner ruled that official contacts could be disclosed. The Cabinet Office appealed but capitulated 10 months later. It published the dates yesterday. A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We decided it was in the public interest to release it."
Lord Avebury said: "This is a welcome blow for the cause of freedom of information, but it shouldn't have taken so much time and effort ... Rupert Murdoch has exerted his influence behind the scenes on a range of policies on which he is known to have strong views including the regulation of broadcasting and the Iraq war.
"The public can now scrutinise the timing of his contacts with the former prime minister, to see whether they can be linked to events in the outside world. One hopes that the timing of the government's decision to capitulate indicates that under Gordon Brown's leadership freedom of information will be made a reality."
A spokesman for Mr Blair declined to comment.