Former prime minister accused of ‘not facing up to facts’ as he gives evidence to Chilcot inquiry
Highlights from Tony Blair’s evidence to the Iraq inquiry Link to this videoThe families of British military personnel killed in Iraq condemned Tony Blair‘s performance before the Chilcot inquiry today, accusing him of being disrespectful.
One, Theresea Evans, asked the former prime minister to look her in the eye and say sorry for the loss of her son.
Evans, from Llandudno, North Wales – whose 24-year-old son, Llywelyn, died in a Chinook helicopter crash in 2003 – said: “I would simply like Tony Blair to look me in the eye and say he was sorry. Instead, he is in there smirking.”
Anne Donnachie, from Reading, Berkshire, whose 18-year-old son, Paul, was killed by a sniper in 2006, said she blamed Blair for his death.
“From what I have heard this morning, he is just denying everything,” she said. “He will just not face up to the facts. I believe he made a massive mistake when he sent my son to Iraq.”
Sarah Chapman, from Cambridge, whose brother, Sergeant Bob O’Connor, died five years ago, said it would be better if Blair was facing the families rather than sitting with his back to them as witnesses are required to do.
“He is being very adamant about his views, as we expected, but it is clear he did not share all the papers before the invasion with the rest of his cabinet,” she said.
“I am disgusted by that. It is obvious he acted alone.”
Anti-war protesters outside the inquiry were denied a chance to direct their chants at the former prime minister in person when he used a side entrance to make his way into the inquiry.
When he began giving evidence inside the QEII Centre in Westminster, a building fortified with steel barriers and lines of police, campaigners stopped their chants of “war criminal”, turned their backs and began listening as the names of civilians and military personnel killed in the conflict were read out.
The crowds dissipated at the end of the morning, but numbers were expected to build again towards the end of the afternoon when the session ends and Blair leaves the inquiry.
For many, today will be the last in a line of protests against the Iraq war which began when up to two million people took to the streets to march against the invasion almost seven years ago.
“He [Blair] does not have the integrity to come and face the people,” Lindsey German, the convener of the Stop the War Coalition, said. “Sliding in by a back door entrance is typical of his lies, deceit and evasion.”
Andrew Murray, the chairman of the anti-war group, added: “This cowardly and deceitful entrance is typical of how the former prime minister sold the war to the country – behind the backs of the public.”
Scotland Yard said there were at least 250 protestors and reported that officers had made no arrests.
By 9am, around 300 mainly older activists had gathered by the building in the cold and rain.
One of the first to arrive, at 7am, was Noel Hamel, the 67-year-old chair of the Kingston Peace Council. He had woken in the early hours in order to get to central London by bus and tube.
A disenfranchised former Labour party member who campaigned for Blair in 1997, he said: “I was out there knocking on doors, proposing motions.
“I just couldn’t have imagined a Labour government taking us to a war of this kind while being so deceitful about it.”
As word spread that Blair had already entered the centre, chants of “Tony Blair, to the Hague” began.
Ruby Lescott, another ex-Labour supporter in her 60s, said her “deep-rooted, immovable rage” was not only directed at Blair but also at his closest ministers.
“The cabinet – most of them – were reluctant about [the war],” she added. “The Labour government has eroded the virtues of our parliamentary system.”
Among the few younger faces in the crowd, Lois Clifton, 19, and Emma Clewer, an 18-year-old fellow LSE university student, admitted their attempts to leaflet for the protest had been disappointing.
“We needed more people here,” Clewer said. “It’s a chance for people to show their anger.”
During the start of the invasion, both were in their early teens and recalled the marches.
“There were a lot of walkouts at school,” Clifton said. “I wasn’t as aware as I am now … but I knew what was happening was wrong.”
A heavy police presence, including officers from the Metropolitan police’s specialist Territorial Support Group, watched from behind barricades surrounding the centre.
As is common at protests, Forward Intelligence Team surveillance officers jotted down notes of what speakers were saying.