LONDON – Tony Blair has been questioned about the allegations of perverting the course of justice that have been levelled at two of his senior aides, The Times learnt last night.
The police imposed a news blackout on the Prime Minister’s second interview, which took place last Friday. It was disclosed by Downing Street yesterday, two days after Lord Levy, Mr. Blair’s fundraiser, was arrested for a second time on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
As police refused to say why they had demanded secrecy there was speculation last night that they had not wanted Lord Levy to know of the line of questioning taken with Mr. Blair. Ruth Turner, the director of government relations, was the other aide arrested in connection with an alleged cover-up at No 10.
But it was also claimed that Lord Levy was asked on Tuesday about notes of meetings in which he had discussed honours with staff at No 10. In police and political circles there was speculation that Mr. Blair, who is seen as a witness and not a suspect, had been asked whether he was involved in the meetings. The notes were apparently obtained from within No 10 and it was the first time that Lord Levy had been asked about them.
Mr. Blair’s interview was hastily arranged after a request from Scotland Yard, Whitehall sources said. He was also asked to clarify points from his first interview. It is thought that he would have also confirmed that he would be willing to make a formal statement if necessary.
There could well be other interviews with Mr. Blair, according to observers of the investigation.
With Mr. Blair struggling to maintain his authority, Westminster was stunned when his spokesman disclosed that he had been seen last Friday morning for under an hour before he went to Davos for the World Economic Forum. No 10 always promised before Mr. Blair’s first interview that it would announce the event after it had happened, and did so. But the police requested secrecy about the second interview. To ensure that this happened, Mr. Blair’s communications team was not told about it and his spokesman said yesterday that he was not informed until Wednesday evening.
The police request and Downing Street’s compliance with it put intense pressure on the Government’s relations with the Westminster Lobby of political correspondents, with recriminations at two angry meetings yesterday as journalists said they had been misled.
Mr. Blair, who was the first sitting prime minister to be questioned by police, was seen by them again hours after ITN had claimed that e-mails had been deleted and an alternative e-mail system in No 10 discovered, a report that was also denied by Downing Street.
Amid claims that the Government is becoming paralysed by the inquiry and the doubts over Mr. Blair, there has been private venting of fury by insiders this week over the way that details of the investigation have been trickling out.
One insider said: “They asked Downing Street not to reveal that the PM had been interviewed again, and it did not do so, but where have all these other revelations been coming from?”
Mr. Blair is facing calls from within his party to bring forward his departure date because of the damage being done. But ministers argue that no one has been charged and that Mr. Blair could not leave now without compromising the position of some of his staff.