Page last updated at 21:05 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Seats ballot for Tony Blair's grilling on Iraq war

Tony Blair
Mr Blair will be the highest profile person called by the inquiry

A public ballot will be held for people wanting seats to watch Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry.

Mr Blair, PM when Britain went to war with Iraq in 2003, will appear at the central London hearing for one day, during the fortnight from 25 January.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said there had already been "considerable interest" from people wanting seats.

He said there would be separate ballots for the morning and afternoon sessions of Mr Blair's full-day appearance.

The Iraq inquiry is looking at UK policy in the run-up to the war and its aftermath and has already heard from various British officials - including Mr Blair's former advisers and military representatives.

Travelling distances

Mr Blair will be the highest profile person called when he appears.

Announcing the ballot, Sir John said: "There has been considerable interest from members of the public wanting to know how to get a seat for this particular hearing."

We believe the fairest way to do this is to allocate seats by ballot
Sir John Chilcot

Because some people would be travelling long distances, it was important to ensure "certainty" about whether they would get in or not, he added.

"We believe the fairest way to do this is to allocate seats by ballot."

The exact date is not yet known but Sir John said to help people decide whether to enter the ballot, the panel had confirmed that it would be some time in the fortnight from 25 January. The date will be announced on the inquiry website a week in advance - ballot forms are also available on the website.

'Need to be fair'

Mr Blair will appear for a full day - three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon - and two separate ballots will be held for both sessions to "maximise access" for people.

Peter Biles
BBC World Affairs correspondent Peter Biles
We are still none the wiser about the exact date of Tony Blair's appearance at the Iraq Inquiry.

But we do know it will be some time in the last week of January or the first week of February. Officials of the Iraq Inquiry have said they will announce the date a week in advance.

The scramble for tickets will now begin. The odds might be better of getting a Centre Court ticket at Wimbledon. Only about 60 seats are reserved for members of the public at the Inquiry, and of these, a third are being set aside for bereaved families who lost loved ones in Iraq.

There is bound to be some frustration that the precise date of Mr Blair's evidence is still to be confirmed. Of all the evidence to be heard, it is Mr Blair's testimony that is the most eagerly awaited.

A third of the seats have been reserved for the families of armed forces personnel and British civilians who died or went missing in Iraq, which will be allocated in a separate ballot.

Sir John added: "We've met a number of families as part of our work and many have asked about this particular session. We've taken into account their views in making the arrangements and the need to be fair to all those with an interest in this process, including the witnesses."

The ballot tickets are non-transferable so cannot be sold or given away as a present, the inquiry says.

Mr Blair's former spokesman Alastair Campbell is due to be questioned by the inquiry panel next Tuesday.

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