Day 54, Part 1: Tony Blair was privately advising Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers on the phone hacking scandal days after learning its best-selling Sunday title, the News of the World, had intercepted the messages of a missing girl, the Old Bailey heard today.
As the allegations swirled round News International in July 2011, Mr Blair, the former Prime Minister, suggested its chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, set up a “Hutton-style inquiry” that would “clear you and accept shortcomings”. [The 2003 Hutton Inquiry cleared Mr Blair and the Labour government of wrongdoing in the run-up to the Iraq war.]
Mr Blair, whose government was backed by Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers at general elections from 1997, also offered to act as an “unofficial adviser” to Mrs Brooks and to Mr Murdoch and his son James.
Giving words of encouragement to Mrs Brooks during the crisis, Mr Blair told her to “keep strong” and recommended sleeping pills, adding: “It will pass. Tough up.”
Mrs Brooks emailed the advice to James Murdoch, after having an hour-long conversation with Mr Blair on Monday 11 July 2011, the day after the News of the World closed because of the scandal.
A week beforehand, on 4 July, the Guardian newspaper had reported that the News of the World had hacked the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler.
In the email, timed at 4.43pm [pdf] on 11 July 2011, Mrs Brooks wrote:
“Only got 10 minutes before I see Charlie for confiscation! But I had an hour on the phone to Tony Blair.
1. Form an independent unit that has an outside junior counsel, ken mcdonald, a great and good type, a serious forensic criminal barrister, internal counsel, proper fact checkers etc in it. Get them to investigate me and others and publish a hutton style report.
2. Publish part one of the report at same time as the police closes its inquiry and clear you and accept short comings and new solutions and process and part two when any trials are over.
3. Keep strong and definitely sleeping pills. Need to have clear heads and remember no rash short-term solutions as they only give you long-term headaches.
4. It will pass. Tough up.
5. He is available for you, KRM and me as an unofficial adviser but needs to be between us.
He is sending more notes later.”
Prior to that message, at 3.53pm, James Murdoch wrote a one-line note to Mrs Brooks (who had emailed him about News of the World circulation figures): “What are you doing on email?”
Mrs Brooks denies charges of conspiring to hack phones, conspiring to commit misconduct and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The trial continues.