Blair: I have not a regret
You’re a liar and murderer they screamed at him: Fury in public gallery as Blair says ‘I have not a regret’
By James Chapman
Last updated at 10:22 PM on 29th January 2010
An unrepentant Tony Blair was heckled and jeered by families of Britain’s war dead last night as he declared he had ‘not a regret’ about invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein.
At the end of what had been billed as his ‘Judgment Day’, the former Prime Minister made it clear he would do the same again – and warned world leaders they may soon have to take similar decisions over Iran.
Despite the deaths of up to 700,000 Iraqis and 179 British troops, Mr Blair said he felt ‘responsibility but not a regret’ as he concluded his six hours of evidence to the Chilcot inquiry.
On the spot: Tony Blair as he is grilled today by the Iraq inquiry
There was uproar and shouts of ‘liar’ and ‘ murderer’ as bereaved relatives in the public gallery of the QEII conference centre in Westminster realised they were not going to receive the apology for which they had waited all day.
There was no hint of remorse.
Indeed, Mr Blair even suggested the world should be grateful to him.
Saddam had been a ‘monster’ and it had been right to remove him even to prevent the ‘possibility’ that he could acquire weapons of mass destruction.
He warned that Iran’s nuclear weapons programme now poses an even greater threat.
And, in an apparent rebuke to Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, suggested that if he was still in power he would be championing military action.
On a dramatic day of evidence, Mr Blair:
- Revealed he decided soon after 9/11 to back the U.S. in whatever action it took;
- Said a second UN resolution was politically desirable but not legally necessary;
- Defended his claim that evidence for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was ‘beyond doubt’ and insisted he had believed it;
- Admitted the infamous claim that Saddam’s WMD could be deployed within 45 minutes should have been corrected;
- Revealed he rejected a last-minute offer of a ‘way out’ from the U.S., which said the UK did not need to send ground troops.
- Mr Blair, in what is likely to be his last major appearance on the international stage, arrived by the back entrance to the centre, apparently to avoid a crowd of protesters outside.
As he began his evidence, he looked uncharacteristically nervous, with his hands shaking.
Public anger: Demonstrators protesting outside the inquiry building in central London today
Fury: Protesters daubed in fake blood wear Bush and Blair masks and carried a coffin
But he soon got into in his stride, joking about the recent TV interview with Fern Britton in which he suggested that if he had known Saddam had no WMD, he would simply have found a different argument for toppling him.
He denied this meant he had been committed to regime change at all costs, and tried to laugh off the comments, saying that ‘with all my experience’ of interviews, he still had ‘something to learn’.
Mr Blair went on to take a defiant stance on Iraq, which has come to define his premiership and left Britain deeply divided.
He insisted he acted because of Britain’s alliance with the U.S. and his firm belief that the world had to send a ‘strong message’ in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001.
He insisted there had been no ‘covert’ deals with the U.S., but admitted had promised President Bush that Britain would help topple Saddam nearly a year before the war began.
That remained his position-even though every senior Government legal adviser was advising him military action would be illegal.
Ring of steel: Scores of police were ranked outside the conference hall to keep order
Probe: A court sketch shows the layout of the inquiry room
He made an extraordinary attempt to shift his central argument that he acted because he believed Saddam had WMD.
Mr Blair said: ‘If there was any possibility that he could develop WMD, we should stop him. That was my view then and that’s my view now.’
One rare concession was that he should have published raw intelligence rather than the Government’s notorious dossier.
He also admitted he should have corrected the way the 45-minute claim was interpreted – it referred only to short-range battlefield weapons – but claimed it had not been of great significance at the time.
Mr Blair insisted: ‘This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception. It’s a decision.
‘And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given ten years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take?
‘The decision I took – and frankly would take again – was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him.’
He suggested people should recognise that the war had made the world safer, arguing that if Saddam had not been removed Iraq would now be competing with Iran to develop nuclear weapons and support terrorists.
But his refusal to express any contrition left some relatives of soldiers in tears.
Theresea Evans, whose son Llywelyn, 24, was one of the first soldiers to die in Iraq, said: ‘He smiled, he laughed during the day but he didn’t say anything about our loved ones at all.
‘I shouted that he was a liar because I believe he is. And he’s a murderer. He has got my son’s blood on his hands.’
They came for an apology. He simply ignored them
Paul Harris reports
She wore his dog tags around her neck and ran them through her fingers as she spoke.
It was five years since her brother was killed in Iraq and a few minutes earlier Sarah Chapman had been sitting just feet from the man she blames for sending him unnecessarily to his death.
Now she was standing in the rain outside the Iraq war inquiry and she could barely hold back the tears.
Sarah Chapman with her brother’s dog tags (left) and Theresea Evans proudly wearing her son’s medals
Inside, a suntanned Tony Blair was giving the performance of a lifetime before a worldwide television audience and a handful of families who lost loved ones in the conflict he was attempting to defend.
He sat with his back to them and smirked occasionally as he spoke. It might have been raining outside, but you couldn’t blame Sarah Chapman if she suddenly felt the need for fresh air.
‘What Tony Blair has given me is a life sentence,’ she said. ‘There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about it.
‘Even when you switch it off in your head, you switch on the news and it’s there. My brother gave his life for this. I lost my life because of it.’
The former nurse, who gave up her job in Cambridge after suffering post-traumatic stress, was one of 20 relatives attending the first session of Mr Blair’s evidence.
Her brother Bob O’Connor, a special services sergeant, was one of ten killed in a Hercules aircraft that was shot down exactly five years ago today.
She steeled herself to attend the hearing but never expected any apology or condolence from Mr Blair.
‘I wanted to be here but watching him in there made me very angry,’ she said. ‘Everyone thought he was very smug.
‘At times he even seemed to be making light of it. It was extremely disrespectful.
‘I would have liked to have had some answers but I’m realistic. I never really thought we’d get any.’
She added: ‘I’m so angry with him. He was asked if there was anything finally that he wanted to say and he just said no.’
Perhaps this should have been the day Mr Blair acknowledged what a price these families paid for his determination oust Saddam Hussein. Instead, he ignored them.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed by a roadside bomb in 2004, sat only feet away from him and fixed him with a stare.
‘His hands were shaking, just like my hands have been shaking for the last five years,’ she said.
‘I’d hoped we could turn the tables so he could face us.’
She added: ‘I have been writing to him for years asking for a meeting, and he didn’t have the decency to acknowledge us or meet us today to say sorry.
‘I will never forgive him and I believe he should stand trial. I will be angry with him for the rest of my life.’
Anne Donnachie lost her son Paul, an 18-year-old rifleman, in 2006. He was shot dead by a sniper in a war she believed was illegal and unnecessary.
‘I blame Tony Blair for the death of my son,’ she said. ‘He made a massive mistake when he sent troops into Iraq. But now he’s just denying everything. He won’t face up to the facts.’
Valerie O’Neill, who lost her son Kris, 27, when the Royal Army Medical Corps serviceman was blown up by a roadside bomb, said: ‘We waited right to the very end to hear an apology from him. It never came.
‘He couldn’t bring himself to do it. It’s an absolute disgrace.’
Some of the relatives emerged to join the demonstration outside.
Names of some of those who became victims of Mr Blair’s war were read aloud from a platform.
They included casualties not just from the roll call of 179 British servicemen-but from the huge list of Iraqi civilian dead. Many of the military dead were still in their teens and early 20s.
Among them was Llywelyn Evans, 24, who died in a Chinook helicopter crash in 2003.
His mother Theresea Evans travelled from her home in North Wales to attend the inquiry with one forlorn hope.
‘I would simply have liked Tony Blair to look me in the eyes and say he was sorry,’ she said.
Had he done that? ‘No,’ she said. ‘He just sat there smirking.’
The former Premier admitted sharing President Bush’s view that it ‘wasn’t necessary’ to have UN Security Council support for war.
Mr Blair said he wanted a ‘UN situation in which everyone was on the same page and had agreed’ because, politically, this would have made ‘life a lot easier’.
But he admitted reaching the conclusion that if the UN route failed, Saddam would have to go.
Mr Blair added: ‘The American view throughout has been, “This leopard isn’t going to change his spots” – he was always going to be difficult.’
He said it had been his decision to seek UN support, and that had led to resolution 1441 giving a final warning to Saddam to comply with weapons inspectors.
But he claimed that, despite Saddam failing to comply, France and Russia had made it clear they would not support a second resolution justifying military action so it had been withdrawn.
Mr Blair denied this was because U.S. troops were already massed in Kuwait.