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Twitterbanter with Piers apart, the Jonathan Rees questions will have to be answered

Posted on 12 June 2011 | 6:06pm

Whether people agree or disagree with what the Blair government did with regard to Iraq, I don’t think anyone can say we have not answered questions on the subject.

In addition to the four inquiries to which I have testified, I have been asked about the subject in hundreds if not thousands of interviews and public meetings, and have always sought to answer questions fully and truthfully.

So whilst I respect the right of anyone to say the government did the wrong thing – though I disagree – I cannot accept the view of those who have been tweeting this afternoon that I have not answered questions on the subject. I have and I always will.

The issue arose because I asked Piers Morgan via twitter what stories were delivered to the Mirror about myself and Peter Mandelson – Piers was editor at the time – when the paper was paying fairly sizeable sums to private detective Jonathan Rees.

At first the question went ignored, but I know that Piers prides himself on not running away, so I knew if I persevered and repeated the question that eventually he would say something.

When he did it was to turn to  attack as the best form of defence. I don’t have a problem with that but he has to accept that saying the war in Iraq was illegal – his view and that of others, but not of the Attorney General at the time – is not an answer to the question I was asking.

I am not remotely suggesting that in terms of seriousness of an issue, the payments paid by a newspaper to private eyes are on a par with a government committing its citizens to war. But I do think the nature of our media is an important issue for our democracy as a whole, and there are a lot of unanswered questions both in the phone-hacking saga, and in the Rees affair, and what both say about Britain’s press and its cavalier and self-serving regard for the rule of law.

And I don’t think the questions are going to go away, especially following David Cameron’s answer to Labour MP Tom Watson in the Commons on Wednesday, when the PM signalled the police should investigate as widely as the evidence takes them.

I have seen the invoices relating to me and to many others Rees was asked by the Mirror and by other papers to look into. Piers is right that the invoices themselves do not show illegality. They speak of services rendered, information supplied, inquiries made. But the sums involved, when you tot them all up, are fairly big. Newspapers are not nearly as generous with freelance payments as they used to be, so we are entitled to assume Rees was either doing things journalists could or would not, or providing information of some significance.

These invoices and other information only came to light because Rees was involved in a murder case and he was under investigation by police for matters essentially unrelated to his work for the media.

But Piers, who whatever people think is actually one of the more intelligent members of his profession, surely agrees with me that if Rees’s activity related to any other walk of our national life but the press, he would be the subject of rather more coverage than he is getting; and indeed that the press would be at the front of the queue asking the questions.

As it happens, despite our many ups and downs when he was an editor and I was in Downing Street, I find it very hard to dislike Piers, (I have friends who regularly tell me off for it) and I am very pleased for him that he has made it big in the States. I was delighted to be invited to his wedding last year, and am happy for him and Celia that she is pregnant.

I am also prepared to accept, as he said in one of the many tweets he sent me as I was watching the rain fall at Queen’s Club, that he did not personally know Rees; and though he had a few things to say about Iraq on twitter today, I did not join in with those who were reminding him of the so-called fake photos scandal, insider share dealing or any of the rest of it.

We will doubtless carry on with the twitterbanter. But the fact remains that Rees was paid substantial sums to provide information and deliver services in relation to me and people close to me. Piers cannot be surprised that I have more than a passing interest in knowing what it might have been, and also in knowing whether the law was broken in his obtaining of it.

So Piers can continue to say we did the wrong thing in Iraq and that we should all be dragged off to the Hague for a war crimes trial. But in the meantime I think his former paper does owe this former employee, and many other people, a few answers about what it got up to when Rees was on the payroll.

Ps, I cannot pretend Henry Porter is one of my favourite people or journalists but amid the general media blackout on media wrongdoing, at least he is having a go. Here is the piece he wrote for The Observer today. Worth a read.

  • MicheleB

    I think your blog about not saying another thing about Iraq until the next time you appear at the Inquiry is absolutely the right standpoint.

    Anything you say (especially when visible to those who dislike/envy/whatever you) can be distorted and people like PM have a nerve even to try doing the x-examination in public.  That;s up to far more intelligent and important [eople like him.

    We know that this is all only happening / re-surfacing again now because the public is well on its way to finding out exactly who commissioned Rees and all the other neo-criminals that compromised themselves to work for NoW (and we also know which very recent departee from Downing St is going to be proved as always being right in the thick of it – no pun intended 😉

  • I think you two should get a room.

  • MicheleB

    But again, as with the Wail story, I think you’re reacting too much; it’s just what they want – even if all they can be sure of is that anything hurried is likely to contain twistables.

  • As many in the press are (incorrectly) want to say “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”. Piers Morgan’s silence on the subject of Rees speaks volumes.

    As an aside Henry Porter has been “having a go” for quite some time

  • Keane Sinéad

    As Piers Morgan said,you should really go in search of those pesky W.M.D’s.

  • How many other secrets lie buried in the lead-lined vaults of NewsCorp? Who killed Blair Peach? How much did the army collude with Ulster paramilitaries? How many union officials were bugged before during and after the miners strike? 

    When the Wapping-Gate scandal finally breaks, the ‘4th Estate’ may find it no longer the information it has ‘gathered’ over the years is no longer considered its property, and that the public demand to know just what information has been suppressed and which used, and how. If it is refused this right to know, it will feel entitled to believe that Orwell’s satire was about capitalism as much as communism. And that in the right hands, both were just as likely to become totalitarianisms, which would overturn a few preconceptions.Dirty Digger Is Watching YOU.

  • MicheleB

    Durr …… this

    That;s up to far more intelligent and important [eople like him.

    should read people THAN him.

  • MicheleB

    Since you ask  :-
    Iraq’s declarations of WMDs as at ’09. 

    OK Shin?

  • MicheleB

    But in case you don’t ‘do;’ links :-

    Iraq submitted its initial declaration on 12 March 2009, and has declared two bunkers with filled and unfilled chemical weapons munitions, some precursors, as well as five former chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs). The Secretariat is now analysing this declaration and continuing its work with Iraqi representatives on certain issues related to it. In this context, I also wish to mention and thank Iraq for having presented yesterday to the Technical Secretariat additional information on the general plans for destruction of its chemical weapons and former production facilities. All in all, I commend Iraq for its committed approach to all these important matters.

  • Why would your old newspaper have been after you, also the Mirror is so Labour makes the old Soviet Papers look moderate, was it because TB was seen as in the pocket of the Sun and hence you? By the way is this twitter battle just some free PR for you both, not that either of you would spin for PR!

  • Keane Sinead

    Old dear, a declaration is rather different than finding what a post-war government said was there.You are putting undue emphasis on a government which comprises many whom were in exile when Iraq’s weapons programmes were in place.If you truly believe that the full story of Iraq has been told, I would punt on that is a minority view.History as they say is written by the winners not the losers.

  • Robert

    BBC website headline this morning: “REVIEW TO RECOMMEND NHS CHANGES” = Coalition to be commended on their NHS plans for change.

    But when you read the content: “An independent review of the government’s planned shake-up of the NHS in England is expected to recommend significant changes.” = Just the opposite.

    Perhaps as well as Nick Robinson suggesting on his blog that we owe journalists an apology for not believing their line on TB/GB he ought to suggest that the BBC’s web headline writers have a look at the BBC College of Journalism website – the chapters on making the headline fit the story.

  • MicheleB

    OK Shin, please tell us what was hidden by being buried inside the 000s of Chemical Ali’s victims ?

    Just about the most macabre way of hiding WsMD imaginable.

    You need to be careful, you denYers, that you don’t end up sounding as if  you’d have voted for Saddam, had you been one of his subjects.


  • Keane Sinead

    Saying that I would have voted for Saddam because I disagree as to how war was sold makes no sense.Also there were never elections in Iraq during his era just a ‘referendum’.The same emphasis was not placed on the horror of ‘The Bosnian War’,a European War,or presently Mugabe or Syria.The West got into bed with Saddam and the Al Assad family, we seem to like dictators when it suits us.War benefits no one in the longer term,’The Taliban’ are becoming stronger again in Afghanistan.War does not determine who is right only who is left.

  • MicheleB

    I’m aware there were no elections under saddam Shin but your attempted vilification, describing as untrustworthy the very people that had been exiled by Saddam when you dismiss post-invasion declarations of WsMDs is ridiculous.

    Did you forget to answer my question?  Here it is again …..
    ………. please tell us what was hidden by being buried inside the 000s of Chemical Ali’s victims ?

    Inside or under or just around them Shin, WT* killed them?
    WTH try to deny it?
    There can be no reason other than using ANY lie to claim the invasion had no legitimate reason.

    Would you REALLY rather have the sanctions still in place, along with Saddam and Ali?

    Hey, should we say the same about Hitler if we have to defame all regime change?


  • Keane Sinéad

    You really are missing the point.I as a child saw those pictures on the news of the chemical attacks and was disgusted.But war was not sold on chemical warfare.It was sold on the basis that Iraq could launch W.M.D’s and within fifteen minutes.Also if I was head of Prime Minister of a country which had to be rebuilt I would not go against those who are helping financially.We in the West have to take blame for the disaster.It was the West who financed the overthrow of Faisal II of Iraq.You don’t answer my questions why do governments turn there backs to some atrocities.Do you not remember the ethnic cleansing of ‘The Bosnian War’.Mugabe is still reeking havoc in Zimbabwe,we have not got a clue of the true state of Syria.To believe everything a government says is dangerous.

  • MicheleB

    You don’t consider chemical weapons as WsMD?  I do.
    How long do you suppose it took for Chemical’s planes to take off and to  disperse the gas over their own people?
    Or were you only concerned with threats to the UK?

    There are differences between types of regime.
    We know Saddam was capable (and committed) invasions on other countries.
    Iraq ‘earned’ sanctions (according to those who implemented them).
    We know that the UN has expressed regret that more people (very young/old/poor) were dying every single month under them.
    We know that some countries bust those sanctions (India for one) but not with the supplies that would help the very young or very old, rather with the luxury goods that only Saddam’s family and the rest of the hierarchy could afford.

    I don’t know why some Govts ‘turn their backs’ as you put it on some atrocities.
    Perhaps because nobody can control the whole world, it’s called making choices, hopefully the best  or most urgent ones.

    I would say that actually what they usually do is try to negotiate, offer Aid, hopefully on the basis it won’t be sold on.

    Why are we ‘turning our backs’ re Iran? 
    How is not taking action, acting like the world’s police, describable as ‘turning our backs’?

    Don’t guess that I believe everything a Govt says Shin, I decide who to and I know which, at the moment, I most certainly do not believe IN.

  • Keane Sinéad

    That awful phrase of ‘regime change’ should be changed to ‘selective regime change’.As I have said the ‘The Bosnian War’ a European war that we turned our backs on.What I am saying is that we in the West made the monster that became Saddam Hussein.As a result we are culpable in his crimes.Richard Clarke a former U.S. State Department believed that Bush came into office with a plan to invade Iraq.As for the U.N. oil for food?Mugabe once seen as the saviour has wrecked his country.Afghanistan, the less said about Karzai the better.The West has a hell of a lot of explaining to do.

  • MicheleB

    What a shame we don’t have your contemporary ideas of what should have been done way back when Shin.  I don’t need you educating me about Bosnia or Mugabe, nor the fact that history is the reason for all the problems we have as hindsight is useless. 

    Eebygum seemed like an absolutely 9carat genius when Zimbabwe was first ‘gaining’ / claiming back its independence and ‘we’ were properly being thrown out.  Contemporaries of his at university here have said he was brilliant.  So he’s gone nuts; we didn’t make him do so and we didn’t make him Pres.  We are not to blame.

    We are all living in ex-colonies; I don’t know how many of my cells are Anglo-Saxon, Norman or Irish and which of my female ancestors were raped but I don’t see any point in blathering on about it OR in people in other ex-colonies going on about the Raj etc.  If they were to turf out our language along with all that harping on and try to do what they now can in their own tongues I might be more patient with it all.


    Whatever Bush planned to do that you think we were wrong to be part of …. maybe he did come in to office with a set ambition to outdo his Daddy  …. if so we can thank TB that US was not allowed to ‘go in’ to Iraq on its own.  TB ran himself ragged getting the coalition that brought controls around Bush and that is the only reason the invasion was as civilised as any could be and why Iraq is no longer enduring sanctions (and wasn’t doing so from the first month, after decades of them).

    Move on Shin.

  • Keane Sinead

    People old dear are allowed to have viewpoints such is democracy.Blair was to use the phrase a lap-dog of Bush.Is you think that the invasion was ‘civilised’ you are reading the wrong material.Those who were brutalised under Saddam Husseins time rose up against there occupiers.There has been numerous evidence of how a generation of children in Iraq have been deeply traumatised due to what they have experienced.Maybe Blair could put his hand into his pocket to provide some psychological services,which doctors on the ground say they are in dire need of.So if you think that is historical.If you think that Post-War Iraq is fine now there is no sanctions that is plainly not true.It is not historically if something is still going on.You’re off point comment about ‘The Raj’, I am from a very Irish Republican family, I don’t go on about the wrongs of what the British did in Ireland

  • Keane Sinead

    A quote from one of my heroes,Sir Winston Churchill’Study history,study history.In history lies all the secrets of statecraft’.I don’t think ‘blathering’ on about what has gone before is pointless.Understanding what has gone before us is essential.I am not all for young people not knowing when the two World Wars began or ended or not knowing anything about Churchill, Gandhi or Mandela.But that is just me.

  • llanelliboy

    I want to know if that Paul Daniels story is true

  • MicheleB

    You were not the ‘doer’ of the verb Shin.  YOU are not the blatherer being referred to.  The ‘doers’ of the verb were/are the residents of the ex-colonies, those whom you brought in to a convo that has gone so off topic it’s become your very own, like most.

    Those people that want to claim victimhood forever, who seem to think Britons were specifically and greedily in search of their countries and whatever riches were there – when in fact our explorers were travelling not knowing what they’d find but hoping they’d at least soon find even food.

    Those people that never mention that whatever success has been achieved in the last and  this century is largely enabled by their speaking the language ‘we’ took round the world …. imposed in some cases but now proven to have been a gift …….

    As I said, we were continuing a habit brought to us by those Europeans that had colonised ‘our’ islands centuries before and about whom we seldom blather on …… recognising what they gave us as well as doing some raping and pillaging

    However, back to now, if you are incapable of grasping what TB’s coalition really achieved, that of ensuring Bush and his troops were controlled in  Iraq then there’s not much point in you even being acknowledged, you can play your little game of joining in with the ‘poodle’ games and the mis-spelling of his name.

    I’m out for the day, enjoy yours.

  • Keane Sinéad

    We will agree to disagree.Have a nice day.

  • Nick Evans

    I can see the point about the new Iraqi government wanting to paint Saddam’s regime in a poor light. But this declaration goes further, doesn’t it? It’s their formal declaration to the international body tasked with overseeing the destruction of chemical WMDs, which will be used as the basis for future inspections and destruction. If it goes beyond what was declared by Iraq pre-invasion, it’s significant as evidence of hidden WMDs. (Unless of course, the new government has quickly built up some stockpiles just in time to declare and destroy them.)