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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK
Navy deal not good idea - Blair
Captured crew arriving in the UK
Des Browne says in hindsight he could have stopped the sales

Tony Blair has said "in hindsight" the navy's decision to allow sailors held captive in Iran to sell their stories to the media was not a "good idea".

The prime minister said he was not involved in the decision, which he said was taken in "good faith" as the freed personnel were "pursued" by the media.

Earlier, Defence Secretary Des Browne said he took full responsibility for allowing the stories to be sold.

Mr Blair said that he did not think such stories would be sold in future.

Asked if he had played a part in allowing the freed captives to sell their stories, Mr Blair said: "I didn't actually know about the decision until after it was taken. But really that is not the point.

"The navy was trying to deal with a wholly exceptional situation in which the families were being pursued by the media to sell their stories. The navy took the view that it was better to manage the situation rather than let it happen.

"With hindsight was that a good idea? No, precisely because people would then misrepresent that somehow the navy were encouraging people to sell their stories, which they weren't doing at all."

He added: "Were people acting completely in good faith, honourably so far as the navy was concerned? Yes, they were."

'Little choice'

The decision to let the crew sell their stories has also been widely questioned by ex-soldiers and some of the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Mr Browne, in his first interview since the row erupted over the weekend, said he had been asked on Friday "to note" the navy's decision to allow the freed personnel to sell their stories.

Clearly with hindsight... I could have made a different decision
Des Browne
Defence Secretary

He said he, and the navy, were "not content" with the decision but felt they had little choice, given that the stories had to be told in the freed captives' own interests "to counteract the propaganda the Iranians had put out using them".

The view the navy took, following "analysis of regulations", was that given the stories would have to be told, the people concerned could not be prevented from being paid.

But, the MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun added, after further discussions with officials on Monday his view of whether the selling of stories could be banned changed, he said.

This meant, referring to his earlier decision to give the go ahead, "clearly with hindsight... I could have made a different decision".

'Dreadful decision'

Mr Cameron responded to Mr Browne's statement by saying there should be a full Ministry of Defence inquiry, to allow lessons to be learned.

He also said there were more questions to be answered about whether the prime minister had any role in the "dreadful decision" to allow the military personnel to sell their stories.

I want everyone out there to know my story from my side, see what I went through
Leading Seaman Faye Turney

The government's "cheap and tatty" focus on short term headlines could cause long-term damage to the armed forces, and he said the buck stopped with the prime minister.

For the Liberal Democrats Chris Huhne said the armed forces wanted capable and competent leadership, but it had been a "complete mess up".

He said: "The fact that both Des Browne and the prime minister were informed about this and that their alarm bells were not ringing about the implications for example, for people in armed services who have been injured, people in the families of service personnel who've had people killed on active service... does seem to me extraordinary."

Mr Bean

Arthur Batchelor, 20, the youngest of the British sailors to be held captive, told the Daily Mirror about his "nightmare" at the hands of his captors - and how they likened him to Mr Bean.

HAVE YOUR SAY
These young people have been cynically used by the UK government in its war of words with Iran
Terence Phillips, Worcester

And Leading Seaman Faye Turney sold her story to ITV1's Tonight with Trevor Macdonald and the Sun newspaper - reportedly for a six-figure sum, some of which will go to navy families.

Leading Seaman Turney defended her decision to sell her story and said a percentage of the money would help the crew and families of HMS Cornwall.

"I want everyone out there to know my story from my side, see what I went through," she told ITV's Tonight programme.

The Royal Navy crew were on patrol boats in the Gulf on 23 March when they were detained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The Iranians accused the crew of straying into its waters - the British say they were in Iraqi territory.

Mr Browne said he wanted to make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Tony Blair on the navy media deal



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