Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been invited to draw up proposals on how to regulate the press in future. In an unusual end to more than four hours of testimony, Lord Justice Leveson asked Blair to join a select group of witnesses who will help guide his thinking in writing his final report.

The request will dismay those who believe Blair is still too close to the Murdoch empire, as well as newspaper groups which feel he harbours grudges over the treatment he received while in office.

Blair claimed:

* He had an entirely professional "working" relationship with Rupert Murdoch and said there was "nothing odd" about him ringing the Australian proprietor three times immediately before the Iraq war to brief him on the invasion. He said his relationship with Murdoch only changed after he left Downing Street and "I got to know him". He denied he had become godfather to one of Murdoch's children, Grace, "on the basis of my relationship in office".


* Murdoch did not lobby him directly over media policy when he was Prime Minister.

* The anti-European views of Murdoch and News International did not affect government policy. "Europe was the major thing that he and I used to row about," he said. "I believed in what I was doing, I didn't need him or anyone else to tell me what to do."

* His director of media, Alastair Campbell, and ally Peter Mandelson did not bully journalists - a suggestion greeted with laughter in Fleet Street.

Blair said he had sent Rebekah Brooks a message of support immediately after she resigned as chief executive of News International after the Milly Dowler phone-hacking revelations because, "I'm somebody who doesn't believe in being a fair-weather friend and certainly I said I was very sorry for what happened to her."

Blair also revealed his wife, Cherie, had either taken or considered legal action over more than 30 media reports in five years. He said some journalists had waged a "personal vendetta" against his wife which had gone "too far".

But it was the request by Leveson to Blair to submit his ideas for how a regulatory regime of the future might look which will concern parts of the tabloid media.

In doing so, the judge gave his clearest indication yet as to the areas his final report will address as well as repeating his insistence that he had "absolutely no interest in imperilling freedom of expression or the freedom of the press".

"As a lawyer and a judge I am very used to looking backwards and deciding what has happened but it's not necessarily a given that a judge is the best person to make recommendations for the future," he said.


"I recognise immediately that [this] is the task that was given to me last July by the Prime Minister. But because these are issues that you've thought about, if you can give me your view, I would be very grateful."

Leveson said he believed it was possible to construct a statutory - but independent - complaints body.

"Whatever comes out of this must be independent of government, independent of the state, independent of Parliament, but independent of the press," he said. "It must command the respect of the press but be independent from it."

He added that any system which replaces the Press Complaints Commission should be able to provide financial redress to those who could not afford to litigate.

"I recognise the parlous financial position of much of the press. But it is important that sanctions are taken seriously," he added.

- Independent