“interviewed as a witness, not as a suspect”

Before Lord Levy was arrested and questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed by police for a second time. The Metropolitan Police have emphasised that he co-operated fully, and that he was “interviewed as a witness, not as a suspect.” That didn’t stop the press lobby grilling the PMOS Tom Kelly at this morning’s press conference when he broke the news – Guido points out that even the press don’t appreciate being misled, which is what they suspect the PMOS did, although the Met say they requested the confidentiality clause. Tom Kelly claims he wasn’t even told, so he couldn’t have misled.. which is, itself, an interesting position for an Official Spokesman to find himself in..Here’s the official Downing St statement

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson told reporters:

“Last Friday the Prime Minister was briefly interviewed by the police as a witness. At the request of the police this was kept utterly confidential and, as a result, the press and communications team in Downing Street were not informed. As far as they were concerned nothing had changed.

“During the course of yesterday afternoon the police contacted Downing Street to inform us that the requirement for confidentiality had been lifted. We are therefore informing you at the first appropriate moment.

“The Metropolitan Police Service is issuing a short statement in parallel.”

What the Met had to say, from the BBC report

Scotland Yard said the news blackout had been requested for “operational reasons”, but gave no further details.

It added: “The prime minister has been interviewed briefly to clarify points emerging from the ongoing investigation. He was interviewed as a witness, not as a suspect and co-operated fully.”

And the relevant section from the press conference

Police Inquiry

The PMOS told Lobby that last Friday the Prime Minister was briefly interviewed by the police as a witness. At the request of the police this was kept utterly confidential, and as a result the Press and Communications Team in Downing Street were not informed. As far as we were concerned, nothing had changed. During the course of yesterday afternoon the police contacted Downing Street to inform us that the requirement for confidentiality had been lifted. That was why he was informing Lobby at the first appropriate moment. The Metropolitan Police Service would be issuing a short statement in parallel with this statement.

Asked where the Prime Minister was questioned and for how long, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister was questioned in No10 and his information was that the interview lasted well short of an hour. Asked if the Prime Minister was interviewed under caution, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister was not interviewed under caution.

Asked if he could say under what category the Prime Minster was questioned, was it for “cash for honours” or “perverting the course of justice”, the PMOS replied that it would be totally wrong for him to do so.

Asked what was revealed in Friday’s interview that was not covered in the Prime Minister’s first interview, the PMOS replied that we had not in any way briefed the content of the initial interview and we would not be briefing the content of the second interview either.

Asked if the Prime Minister was questioned alone, the PMOS replied that his understanding was that the same arrangements were made as on the first occasion. In other words, the Prime Minister was only accompanied by a note taker. Asked if there was a lawyer present, the PMOS said that there was no lawyer present this time or the previous time.

Asked if there was any indication that the investigation was nearing an end, the PMOS replied that this was a matter entirely for the police.

Asked why the interview had been kept confidential until now, the PMOS replied that when the police issued their statement this would become clearer.

Put to him that it was slightly unusual that the PMOS did not find out about this until yesterday, the PMOS replied that as he had said, this was directly at the request of the police. No doubt they had their reasons, and we respected those reasons.

Asked if Downing Street had made any representations to the police to make the decision public today, the PMOS replied that the decision to make this public was entirely one for the police. We respected their wishes of confidentiality. They said yesterday that the need for confidentiality was over and therefore this was the first opportunity that we had to let Lobby know.

Asked how much notice the Prime Minister was given, the PMOS replied that he would not be getting into processology.

Asked what kind of mood the Prime Minister was in, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister was getting on with the business of Government. Anyone who reflected back over the last few days would see that.

Asked exactly who knew, as the PMOS had been put in the invidious position of answering questions on this each day by saying “nothing had changed as far as he was aware”, and now they had been told that he had been misleading Lobby, and was this not highly unusual, the PMOS replied that since the police made such a request, it was right and proper in an investigation like this to give our full cooperation. It was highly unusual but these were highly unusual circumstances. Asked again who knew, the PMOS replied that he would not get into the processology.

Asked at what time of day the Prime Minister was interviewed, the PMOS replied that last Friday they left for Davos mid morning, that would give them a fair idea.

Asked if there would come a stage when the Prime Minister thought that all of this was too embarrassing for the Government, the PMOS replied that the danger here was that the journalist was entirely prejudging the outcome of the police investigation. He said again that the Prime Minister was not interviewed under caution. This was a police investigation and it was wise counsel that everyone did not rush to prejudge it. The Prime Minister was getting on with the business of Government and the issues that were in front of the Government on which he had taken a lead. Whether it was energy policy, reform of the health service, education, Northern Ireland, or representing this country abroad on issues such as the Middle East or Europe, these were vital issues. No one could say that the business of this Government was not being driven through. In the last 12 months the issues that had come to the fore were still being driven forward. This was a Government that was moving forward with a very, very strong agenda.

Asked if it was reasonable to assume that the Prime Minister would like the police to conclude their investigation as soon as possible, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister was determined for No10 to fully cooperate with the police and that the police carry out their investigation as they should.

Asked if this proved that the police did not leak, the PMOS replied that we had all seen the speculation in the papers. He would simply say that we presume the speculation was coming from somewhere, we did not presume to say where from. This was a matter that the rest of the people in the room probably knew more about than he did.

Asked if the Prime Minister was presented with any documentation during the interview, the PMOS repeated that he would not be discussing the content of the interview.

Asked if the documentation included a hand written note by the Prime Minister, the PMOS replied that our reply to the Sunday Telegraph still stood.

Put to him that after the first interview we had said that as far as we were concerned, that was the end of the Prime Minister’s involvement, the PMOS replied that we had said it was entirely a matter for the police.

Asked again that if the Press team had not been informed, had anyone else in Downing Street been informed, the PMOS replied that this was kept extremely tight.

Asked if the police had any plans to interview the Prime Minister again, the PMOS replied that again this was a matter entirely for them, he was not going to speak for them.

Asked if the PMOS could help journalists by confirming that the Prime Minister was asked about things which he had not been forthcoming with during the first interview, the PMOS replied the simple answer was no, he could not help.

Asked if the police officers were in uniform, the PMOS replied that since he did not know they were there, Lobby would not be surprised to know that he did not know whether they were in uniform or not.

Asked if John Yates was involved, the PMOS replied that he did not know.

Asked how he personally felt about misleading the Lobby, the PMOS replied that he did not mislead the Lobby. If they looked at what he had said, as far as he was concerned nothing had changed.

Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that this was damaging his last few weeks in office, the PMOS replied that firstly he would park the journalist’s timescale and not comment on that in any way. There was an ongoing police investigation and no one should pre-judge the outcome of that investigation in any way. The important thing was that the Prime Minister was getting on with the business of Government.

Asked if the Prime Minister informed Cabinet of this, the PMOS said he was not aware that the issue came up at Cabinet. Asked if Jonathan Powell had been questioned again, the PMOS said that Jonathan Powell was a Special Advisor and therefore a temporary Civil Servant, therefore he would not talk about him or his work. Asked if anyone else other than Ruth Turner had been questioned, the PMOS said he would not provide a running commentary on who had been questioned and who had not. The only people we had commented on had been Ruth Turner due to the circumstances of her questioning and the Prime Minister.

Asked if the Prime Minister was aware of the reasons the police believed the meeting needed to be kept confidential and did he agree to this, the PMOS said that the police made the request and we agreed to it.

Asked why the lobby was not told of this yesterday, the PMOS said precisely because he was not aware of what had happened, he added that he had not been aware at 3.45pm yesterday afternoon. Asked if the PMOS had been made aware in the later that afternoon, the PMOS said yes, much later that night.

Asked if the Prime Minister had sought legal advice, the PMOS replied that he would not be getting into processology.