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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Journalist stands by Blair claims
Tony Blair and fellow politicians file past the coffin
Tony Blair reportedly wanted bigger lying-in-state role
The Spectator magazine and two newspapers are standing by their claims that Tony Blair attempted to influence arrangements for the Queen Mother's funeral.


I am very sorry that Alastair Campbell has taken this decision but I can see that he got his tits in the wringer

Boris Johnson
Spectator editor
The prime minister is said to be furious about "untrue" reports his officials asked for arrangements to be changed to increase his prominence at the service.

Mr Blair has lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over the articles, which appeared in the Spectator magazine, the Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard.

All three publications insist the story is true and have said they will vigorously contest the prime minster's complaint.

The row marks a significant deterioration in Labour's relationship with sections of the right wing press.

Blair 'upset'

Peter Oborne, of the Spectator, who also wrote the Evening Standard article, claims Downing Street has already shifted its position from a flat denial to saying officials had sought to "clarify" Mr Blair's role in the funeral.

"They have gone 90% of the way already to accepting that our story is true," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But senior Labour MP Clive Soley accused Mr Oborne of being "silly".

He said he did not know whether the story was true or not but Mr Blair was "very upset by the allegation".

"I am sure it is entirely possible that officials at various levels discussed what the prime minister's role should be," he told Today.

But the row only highlighted his argument that both the media and politicians needed to rethink the way politics is reported, Mr Soley said.

Mr Oborne agreed that there was "a case for a much more mature relationship with the press".

But he called on Downing Street to "clean up its act" and stop "distorting" stories.

'Deeply offensive'

Announcing the PCC protest, Number 10 said: "Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and the Westminster authorities have made clear that the story is untrue and we had hoped to resolve the issue with a correction and apology in the three publications.

"We regret they have all refused to do this and that we are forced to take this course."

The spokesman added that Mr Blair had "many things" written about him that were untrue "but the idea that he would try to exploit the death of the Queen Mother is totally without foundation and deeply offensive".

"Whatever sources they may claim to have, they cannot escape the fact that the story is untrue and the prime minister is determined they should correct it and apologise."

Sorrow at decision

Editor of the Spectator and Conservative MP Boris Johnson said he was confident of the authenticity of the story and would be "fighting all the way" over the complaint.

"I am very sorry that [Tony Blair's director of communications] Alastair Campbell has taken this decision but I can see that he's got his tits in the wringer."

Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson insists the story is true
Meanwhile a spokesman for the Mail on Sunday insisted that the story was "100% accurate".

"Since publication our source, who was directly involved in making the lying-in-state arrangements, has confirmed to us that our account was correct in all regards and has informed Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and the Press Complaints Commission that this is the case.

"We cannot understand why Downing Street has made this fallacious complaint which we will contest with the utmost vigour."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Tony Blair finds that relations with parts of the press are utterly poisonous"
See also:

04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair leads tributes to Queen Mother
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