Tony Blair is the latest high-profile person to surface in the British phone-hacking trial, a high-stakes criminal prosecution of shadowy practices at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.
Mr. Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, offered to act as an “unofficial adviser” to Mr. Murdoch and to Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Mr. Murdoch’s British newspaper empire, who is one of eight defendants in the case and is expected to give evidence for the first time Thursday.
In a one-hour phone conversation less than a week before Ms. Brooks was first arrested in July 2011, Mr. Blair told her to “keep strong” and take sleeping pills, according to an e-mail in which she relayed the conversation to Mr. Murdoch’s son James. The e-mail was read out by the prosecution in court Wednesday.
The e-mail from Ms. Brooks to James Murdoch, dated July 11, 2011, said Mr. Blair “is available for you, K.R.M.” – shorthand for Mr. Murdoch senior – “and me as an unofficial adviser, but needs to be between us.”
“It will pass,” Mr. Blair told her, according to the e-mail, advising her to commission an independent inquiry, “Hutton-style.” The 2004 Hutton report cleared the Blair government of wrongdoing over its handling of intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He even suggested the name of an outside lawyer, Ken Macdonald, “a great and good type,” said the e-mail, which was read out by the prosecution in court on Wednesday.
On July 15 of that year, Ms. Brooks resigned from News International, the umbrella company covering the Murdoch newspapers in Britain, and on July 17, she was arrested.
Mr. Blair’s office issued a statement Wednesday saying that he had been “simply giving informal advice over the phone.”
“If what he was being told by Ms. Brooks at the time was correct, and there had been no wrongdoing, then a finding to that effect by a credible inquiry would be far better than an internal and therefore less credible investigation.”
The trial has become one of the most high-profile criminal prosecutions in recent times here.
The disclosure in 2011 that journalists at The News of the World had years earlier intercepted the voice mail messages of a kidnapped teenager who was subsequently found murdered caused widespread outrage in Britain. The case has since mushroomed, involving more than 160 Scotland Yard police officers and staff members and at least 1,000 likely victims from politics, sports, show business and the media, including Prince William and his future wife, Kate Middleton. Mr. Murdoch shuttered the newspaper in 2011 as the scandal deepened.
Ms. Brooks, 45, who was editor of The News of the World and The Sun before she ran News International, is accused of condoning if not encouraging such practices among journalists, of bribing at least one official, and of conspiring with her husband to hide evidence. Like all her co-defendants, she has pleaded not guilty.
The case has been closely watched for how it might prompt efforts to tone down Britain’s cacophonous journalism industry to avoid similar misconduct in the future. But it has also been a window into the intimate ties at the top of news media and political power. The e-mail disclosing the “between us” counsel Ms. Brooks received from Mr. Blair, himself a friend of the Murdochs, was further evidence of that intimacy.
Ms. Brooks, a long-time protegé of Murdoch’s, has been called his “fifth daughter” in the British press. She was named editor of The News of the World at 31 and ran his British newspaper business at 41. Prime Minister David Cameron was a friend and neighbour in the Oxfordshire countryside who rode her husband’s horses. He and his immediate predecessor, Gordon Brown, reportedly both attended her wedding, as did Mr. Murdoch.
Adding drama to the trial – and steamy love letters to the pile of evidence – have been revelations that Andy Coulson, her deputy editor and successor at The News of the World and more recently Mr. Cameron’s chief spokesman, was also Ms. Brooks’ lover of six years.