‘Bliar’ anger outside Iraq inquiry

By Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson

Westminster turned into a media circus as Tony Blair finally faced the Iraq inquiry today.

Protests began at 08:00 GMT and are expected to continue throughout what is turning into a day of high drama and recrimination in central London.

A delegation of Iraqi citizens and grieving military families began the protests as Mr Blair arrived at the inquiry a full two hours before he was due to begin the day.

In early morning protests, up to 300 demonstrators chanted: “Blair lied – thousands died.”

Later, unaware that the former prime minister had already entered the QEII conference centre, they began demanding: “Tony Blair, where are you? I will hit you with my shoe.”

A ‘naming of the dead’ ceremony took place between 09:00 and 10:00 GMT, as playwrights and musicians read out the names of those killed in the war. A similar event will take place at 13:00 GMT, as bereaved military families read out the names of the 179 British service personnel killed in the conflict.

Once the inquiry began a protestor interrupted members of the public watching Mr Blair give evidence in the main conference hall of the QEII centre, being used as an overspill.

“I’m sorry but I can’t stomach this any more, I’m going to go and make a non-violent citizens’ arrest,” he shouted, before being hushed by those around him. He left voluntarily.

The former prime minister was called a “liar and a murderer” at the close of the inquiry session.

A member of the gallery, which had been selected by a public ballot after overwhelming demand, said “come on!” when Mr Blair insisted he had no regrets over the Iraq war.

Mr Blair’s appearance comes as questions are asked about the continued classification of various documents relating to the war, including a letter Mr Blair wrote to George Bush in July 2002.

“There is still no sign that the documents that need to be made public for this to be a meaningful hearing will be released,” Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said yesterday.

Reg Keys, the father of a British soldier who died in Iraq and a prominent anti-war campaigner, said in a statement: “Military families you see here today all accept that the risk of death and serious injury goes along with being a serving soldier, and indeed that our loved ones may indeed fall in battle.

“But what we cannot and will not accept is that a prime minister of the 21st century would knowingly conspire to mislead and lie to parliament – furthermore, who would deploy British forces totally ill-equipped into the heat and battle of conflict without legal, lawful authority.”

The Green party’s joint international coordinator Phelim Mac Cafferty, speaking outside the QEII centre, said Mr Blair “and his cronies” had “waged war on all of us”.

“We have the most atrocious detention period in the so-called free world. And when 56 people died on London’s Underground and hundreds more were maimed on 7th July 2005, Blair’s war came home, and his bloody handprints were all over the bomb scenes,” he said.

There was some support, however. Mr Blair’s former director of communications, Alistar campbell, blogged this morning in support of what he’d seen so far.

“As someone who thinks he made the right judgement, and as someone who saw all the processes that led to him making it, I think what today has shown so far is that he was fully seized of the enormity of the decision, but that ultimately the security and strategic interests of the UK left him with no option but to take the course he did,” he wrote.

politics.co.uk is monitoring events throughout the day with live minute-by-minute coverage.