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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Blair 'feared' Black Rod's evidence
Tony Blair and fellow politicians file past the coffin
Tony Blair reportedly wanted a bigger role at the funeral
Downing Street dropped its complaint over reports it sought a bigger role at the Queen Mother's lying-in-state because it "feared" Black Rod's version of events, says the journalist at the centre of the row.

According to the Spectator magazine, General Sir Michael Willcocks produced "a long, detailed and scrupulously documented memorandum that revealed the full details of how Downing Street tried to establish a bigger role for the prime minister".


Downing Street suddenly knew that it faced a choice between the story coming out, though in a far more technicolour and dramatic way

Peter Oborne
The row centres on reports that Tony Blair's office called Sir Michael to establish whether the prime minister should walk or drive from Downing Street to Westminster Hall where the Queen Mother's body was lying in state.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said on Thursday that the idea of the prime minister walking to Westminster Hall was briefly considered within Number 10 but rejected on security grounds.

That decision was reached without consulting Black Rod, he said.

'Highly embarrassing'

In the meantime a protection officer notified a detective at Westminster Hall who passed on the idea to Black Rod who was asked if he had any problem with Mr Blair walking through the North door, he added.

According to the spokesman Sir Michael did not raise any objection - but this was not passed back to Number 10 as the decision had already been taken for the prime minister to go by car as this was the "easiest and quickest" way.

But Spectator political editor, Peter Oborne, said the evidence not only proved his version of events but "went much further" and contained a "number of highly embarrassing revelations".

"Downing Street suddenly knew that it faced a choice between the story coming out, though in a far more technicolour and dramatic way than anyone had up to that stage realised, or beating a hasty retreat," he writes in the latest edition of the magazine, edited by Tory MP Boris Johnson.

According to the article, Sir Michael - who is one of Parliament's most senior officials - was on the receiving end of pressure from Downing Street in the wake of Queen Mother's death.

'Amicably' settled

The original story prompted the highly unusual step of a complaint by Number 10 to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

On Tuesday the PCC announced that Downing Street had withdrawn its complaint, prompting Mr Oborne to claim that in doing so Number 10 had accepted his story was 100% true.

But the fallout out from the decision to complain in the first place has blown the story out of all proportion and leaves a question over the future of Mr Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell.

Leader of the Commons Robin Cook was asked whether Mr Campbell should quit his job.

He said: "I totally believe he should stay and I hope he does stay."

'Perversion of justice'

Downing Street said on Thursday that Mr Campbell had the prime minister's full confidence.

Number 10 also denied that the idea of walking was an attempt to "gladhand" the public.

"Any suggestion that the discussion was taking place to maximise political impact is not true.

"Is the government judged guilty until proven innocent? Then that is a perversion of justice."

At the time of the original press reports the prime minister was said to be furious about articles claiming his officials asked for arrangements to be changed to increase his prominence at the funeral.

Mr Blair took the unusual step of lodging a complaint with the PCC over the articles, which appeared in the Spectator magazine, the Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard.

See also:

11 Jun 02 | UK Politics
04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
13 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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