The war crimes trial of Mr Blair: As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he should be on trial over Iraq, here, in gripping and plausible detail, a thriller writer imagines what would happen

Nothing came as a greater surprise to Tony Blair than to find himself in the dock at the Old Bailey.

He had never, for one moment, seriously considered the possibility that he might be prosecuted for the crime of conducting a war of aggression against Iraq.

He simply could not conceive of himself as a criminal.

Tony Blair had never, for one moment, seriously considered the possibility that he might be prosecuted for the crime of conducting a war of aggression against Iraq

Tony Blair had never, for one moment, seriously considered the possibility that he might be prosecuted for the crime of conducting a war of aggression against Iraq

After all, he had God on his side. Like some Victorian missionary spreading progressive ideals to the world’s less fortunate nations, he truly believed he was doing the Lord’s work.

As he’d told the Labour Party conference in a messianic speech in October 2001 just weeks after 9/11: ‘The kaleidoscope has been shaken.

'The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.’

Removing Saddam Hussein was part of that re-ordering process.

Of course, not all men of God agreed with Tony Blair. In September 2012, Archbishop Desmond Tutu revealed that he had declined an invitation to attend a conference on leadership at which Blair would be present.

Tutu could not face being part of any event involving a man he deemed jointly responsible, along with George W. Bush, for starting a war that, he claimed, ‘has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history’.

The archbishop went on: ‘The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself . . . More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced.

'On these grounds alone, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.’

Tutu must have known that it is an international crime to commit a war of aggression. But he did not appear to know, as Blair surely did, that the mandate of the International Criminal Court in the Hague specifically excludes it from trying that particular charge.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu declined an invitation to attend a conference on leadership at which Blair would be present

Archbishop Desmond Tutu declined an invitation to attend a conference on leadership at which Blair would be present

In theory, it might be possible to set up an independent court to examine crimes committed in Iraq, like the tribunal on crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

But that would require a special resolution of the UN Security Council — Britain and the U.S. would instantly veto any attempt at that.

But Blair had not allowed for another form of resolution: the quiet, unassuming, but unbreakable determination of a British woman bent on justice.

Maureen Smith was a 51-year-old widow from Tadcaster.

Her son, Robbie, had been an RAF technician, killed in a rocket attack on his base in Basra in February 2008.

Mrs Smith had never forgiven the Blair government for sending her son to his death in what she believed was an unjust, unnecessary war. She agreed with every word Archbishop Tutu had said.

And she’d also noted a comment by eminent QC Geoffrey Bindman who, in a letter to a newspaper, stated: ‘The invasion of Iraq violated the UN charter, and those who launched it committed the international crime of aggression.

‘Mr Blair was explicitly warned of the risk of prosecution for this offence by Lord Goldsmith, then attorney general, who wrote in his advice of March 7, 2003: “Aggression is a crime under customary international law, which automatically forms part of domestic law. It might therefore be argued that international aggression is a crime recognised by the common law, which can be prosecuted in the UK courts.” ’

Maureen Smith read those words and decided that if no one else was prepared to do something about them, she jolly well would. So she launched a private prosecution against the Rt. Hon. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

Her local paper picked up on the story. It quickly caught the imagination of national news editors and Maureen found herself being photographed, interviewed and asked to appear on radio and TV shows.

It was a great yarn: a widow of modest means taking on a former prime minister whose lust for money was rocketing him towards the Rich List.

But this would have been just another short-lived human interest story were it not for the fact that Blair was ambushed by reporters at New York’s JFK airport.

He was en route from Kazakhstan, where he had an £8 million contract with the country’s dictatorial President Nursultan Nazarbayev, to a meeting at J P Morgan, the Wall Street bank that paid him around £1.5 million a year.

Exhausted, jet-lagged and irritated by the scrum of cameramen around him, Blair was for once bereft of his usual charm.

Asked what he thought of Mrs Smith’s action, he snapped: ‘Honestly, y’know, I’m not going to waste any of my time worrying about that ridiculous little woman.’

His old enemy Gordon Brown, who had himself committed political hara-kiri by describing a 66-year-old Labour voter called Gillian Duffy as a bigot, must have chuckled when he saw that clip on TV.

For it made Maureen Smith a national heroine. A major news-paper set up a public appeal for  donations to fight her case. Anti-war celebrities lined up to endorse her.

In desperation, Blair called up his old attack dog, Alastair Campbell, whose alleged role in the sexing up of two crucial dossiers filled with unsubstantiated claims about Saddam Hussein’s threat to the UK had been so controversial.

Blair begged his old press secretary, Alastair Campbell, to launch a full-on media assault against Maureen Smith

Blair begged his old press secretary, Alastair Campbell, to launch a full-on media assault against Maureen Smith

Blair begged his old press secretary to launch a full-on media assault against Mrs Smith, aimed at trashing her reputation, just as so many other humble opponents of New Labour had been smeared.

But the ploy backfired. A remarkably well-informed blog about the call appeared on a popular political website.

Had Campbell sensed which way the wind was blowing, and leaked the information? Whatever, within minutes it was trending on Twitter. And that’s when public disgust turned to fury.

It became politically impossible for the Crown Prosecution Service to deny Mrs Smith her day in court.

Blair was forced to spend millions of his lovingly accumulated fortune on  hiring the most expensive defence lawyers in London to defend him, and PR consultants to repair the devastated image of Brand Blair.

Meanwhile, Mrs Smith found herself deluged with offers of free assistance from some of the finest legal minds in the country.

The case began at London’s Central Criminal Court, before the gaze of the world’s media.

Mr Blair was charged with committing a crime against peace — as defined by the Nuremberg Principles laid down by the international law commission of the UN — by planning, initiating and waging an aggressive war against the state of Iraq before, during and after the invasion that commenced on March 20, 2003.

All the controversies Blair believed had been buried by a slew of inquiries, of varying degrees of tameness, came bubbling back to the surface.

Once again the preposterous claim that Saddam Hussein had chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear weapons of mass destruction, ready for use within 45 minutes of him giving the order for their deployment, was examined and found to be utterly bogus.

Once again the so-called intelligence that Saddam had sent representatives to the African state of Niger to buy ‘yellowcake uranium’ for use in nuclear weapons was shown to be based entirely on forged documents.

Once again the pretended justifications for war and the supposed efforts to gain UN support were revealed as nothing more than fig leaves.

For, by the time the war began, Saddam had long since abandoned all his WMD programmes. There were no factories, no stores of weapons: above all, no delivery systems capable of launching WMD attacks on British forces in Iraq, let alone Britain itself.

One prosecution witness after another spoke in support of Mrs Smith’s case.

Former ambassadors, generals and civil servants described the lengths to which Blair and his closest henchmen and women had gone in order to find or fabricate the ‘smoking gun’ that would justify invasion.

Then the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, repeated in court what he first said in 2004.

Far from the war having the approval of the UN, as Blair had always sought to claim, ‘it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view, it was illegal’.

Next, witnesses of the violence that had gripped Iraq in the decade since the invasion spoke of the suffering of families who had lost loved ones or seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed.

Jurors were moved to tears and wept again when British families whose close relatives had been killed or maimed in the conflict described the strange mixture of pride and barely contained fury they felt when thinking about the British Armed Forces’ deployment in Iraq.

In his defence, Blair called former members of his Cabinet and officials from the highest reaches of MI6 and the CIA.

The former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, testified to the sincerity of the allies’ belief in the threat posed by Iraq, and the determination to get UN approval.

By the time the war began, Saddam Hussein had long since abandoned all his WMD programmes

By the time the war began, Saddam Hussein had long since abandoned all his WMD programmes

Finally, and most sensationally, the former U.S. President, George W. Bush, gave evidence via a video-link from Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas, the very place where he and Blair were said to have agreed on the ousting of Saddam in April 2002, almost a year before the war began.

The President took full advantage of his reputation for being tongue-tied and stupid.

When pressed on the exact agreement that he and Blair had reached, he shook his head and said: ‘Gee, my rememberation of those discussions is kinda dim.

You know, it’s still real early in the morning over here.’

Mrs Smith’s QC, Sir Charles Symmington, appeared at one point to have forced Bush to admit the war was always going to go ahead, whatever happened at the UN and irrespective of the actual threat Saddam posed.

But when asked to agree with that summary, Bush just gave a lazy smile and drawled: ‘Well, now you’re just trying to embarrass me by editing what I say.’

Then Blair took the stand. He was not obliged to do so. No defendant is.

But he was, if nothing else, a great performer and he still believed he could win over the jury as he had won over so many audiences before. But he had not accounted for the equally great performers on the other side.

‘I put it to you, Mr Blair,’ said Mrs Smith’s QC in the course of a devastating cross-examination, ‘that you and President Bush must have known full well that Saddam posed no threat, or you would never have sanctioned the war at all.’

‘I’m sorry?’ Blair replied, with a puzzled frown.

‘That’s absurd. We really believed Saddam was a menace to us all. That was the main reason for the war.’

‘And that he was an evil, oppressive dictator?’

‘Well, yes, precisely.’

‘How about Kim Jong-Il, leader of North Korea. Was he a dictator, too?’


‘And did he have weapons of mass destruction?’

‘Well, yes, I imagine so.’

‘So why didn’t you invade North Korea?

‘Well, ha!’ Blair have a wry chuckle, ‘They weren’t helping Al Qaeda, for one thing.’

‘Nor was Saddam,’ said the QC. ‘On the other hand, Iran has long supported international terrorism. It also had WMDs and an active nuclear weapons research programme in 2002-3. And Iran was hardly a beacon of democracy. Why not invade it instead?’

‘Well, I don’t recall that being on the agenda one way or the other.’

The QC approached the witness box. ‘Isn’t the truth, Mr Blair, that one of the main purposes of WMDs is deterrence? You would never have invaded North Korea, or Iran, or anywhere that really had WMDs precisely because those weapons might have been used.

'But you invaded Iraq because you and Mr Bush knew it would be an easy victory. You knew Saddam had no WMDs because no UN inspector had ever found the slightest evidence of them and neither had your intelligence agencies.

‘You just wanted a nice, easy, profitable victory, didn’t you?’

The former U.S. President, George W. Bush, gave evidence via a video-link from Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas

The former U.S. President, George W. Bush, gave evidence via a video-link from Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas

‘No, no, absolutely not!’ Blair insisted. ‘We were doing this to spread peace and freedom and justice around the world.’

‘So, why were there no plans for post-war reconstruction? Why was there no strategy for creating a working government or a functioning infrastructure?’

‘Well, I was having enough trouble doing that here in UK, actually,’ smirked Blair. If he had hoped to lighten the mood, he failed.

As the days and weeks turned into months, so the arrogance, self-assurance and apparent invulnerability of Tony Blair were stripped away, layer by layer, until the man who was left was a greyer, balder, thinner, pathetically diminished version of his former self.

By the end he must have been wishing he had been tried at the International Criminal Court, after all. They have a less confrontational, combative style of justice there.

Nor does the ICC have a jury. Learned judges reach their decisions through a dispassionate analysis of the facts and the law of a case.

Of course, those things matter in a British court, too. But jurors are only human. They cannot help but involve their emotions and their instincts as well as their intellects.

But even so, as in every court case, the final verdict was always in doubt.

The judge’s summing-up, while giving a scrupulously balanced account of both sides’ cases, also observed that: ‘Just as you have heard that there was no “smoking gun” justifying the attack on Iraq, so you may also feel that there is no such gun proving Mr Blair’s intentions or his actions were criminal.

‘You must ask yourself: what was in Mr Blair’s mind in the months leading into the attack on Iraq?

‘Was this a calculated, and therefore illegal, war of aggression, planned and initiated in defiance of international obligations and opinion?

Or did the defendant genuinely believe he was acting, as a responsible Prime Minister must, in defence of his country and its people, knowing that no matter how terrible the consequences of war might be, the consequences of inaction would be worse?’

One legal correspondent in the press gallery scribbled a note to a colleague: ‘Talk about a “get out of jail free” card.’

But would that card work? The jury retired to consider its verdict. Three days later, the jurors returned to a packed, hushed, expectant Old Bailey courtroom.

The clerk of the court spoke: ‘Could the defendant please stand?’

His face impassive, Blair got to  his feet, only the white knuckles gripping the wooden rail of the dock in front of him betraying his excruciating tension.

The clerk then asked the jury foreman: ‘Have you reached a verdict on which you are all agreed?’


‘And do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?’

The foreman looked across at the dock, where Blair was standing, then back at the clerk of the court. ‘Guilty,’ he said.

Blair collapsed into his chair. His lawyers had already warned him that on the basis of the only available precedent, the trial of the Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga, he could be facing a 30-year jail term: effectively a life sentence.

And his assets could all be seized to pay reparations to those his actions had harmed. His freedom and his  fortune were gone in an instant.

When Maureen Smith emerged onto the pavement outside the court she had to be protected by her legal team and several police officers as the media besieged her.

‘The only thing I want to say is this,’ she told them. ‘I’m very glad that we’ve finally got some justice.

‘But I’d much rather still have my boy. And I’m sure that all the other mums in this country, America and Iraq agree with me.’

Maureen and Robbie Smith, and Sir Charles Symington, are, of course, fictional creations. Tom Cain’s latest novel, Revenger, will be published by Bantam Press on September 27 at £14.99.