Diary of a news reporter: Tony Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry

| Mar. 1, 2010 |

Published by Student Direct: Mancunion

Tony Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry was always going to be a big deal so
I’d asked Keith, Reuters’ UK Chief Correspondent, if I could come down
and help cover it, imagining it to be an exciting time to be in their

I headed down there for the lunchtime break around half twelve to meet
the protestors and hopefully the families of killed soldiers who had
been watching Blair in the morning session.

The protest had none of the weight of previous anti-Iraq affairs. The
numbers were relatively miniscule with many of those I spoke to
wondering at the point of the Inquiry itself. Chris Nineham, who leads
the Stop the War Coalition, told me throughout the day that support
would build up and come to a crescendo when Blair left around 5pm so
that the protestors could “confront Blair with the anger of the
British people”. It never happened.

The media scrum tumbled over to Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was
killed in Basra in 2004, as she left for presumably a lunch break. She
wasn’t impressed with Blair and gave us some good quotes.
Unfortunately, with my second-rate shorthand and numbed fingers, I
wasn’t able to get the best of these down.

Thankfully next to me was the Guardian’s Paul Lewis; he was the guy
that broke and followed-up the death of Ian Tomlinson a few months
ago. We went down to a café nearby and both emailed our quotes over to
our editors during a quick lunch.

I’ve learned the importance of Twitter this past month. (I’m not
talking about as grand a scale as with Haiti and Iran.) A lot of the
journalists at Chilcot, notably Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard,
update every few minutes and this was ideal for me outside the Inquiry
needing to discuss with people their thoughts on what had been said.
Paul Lewis was just as keen on updating the world and I was impressed
that he cared so much about his followers!

I showed Paul my shoddy shorthand to which he told me that he didn’t
know it at all before he pulled out a Dictaphone. I duly decided that
it was exactly what I needed, regardless of how good my shorthand was.
Keith then rang, from within the building, asking how I was getting
on. We had a relatively long chat about the day’s events. I emailed
him and Mike, from my phone, the quotes I had from demonstrators,
Chris Nineham and Rose Gentle and said that I would continue to do so.

I then headed over to Victoria High Street to buy a Dictaphone and a
phone charger. The protestors had thinned out hugely so I went back
down to a fairly ornate building nearby (which housed the café Paul
and I had been to) and charged my phone in the only place I could find
plug points, in its lobby, until security chucked me out. That fifteen
minutes of charge lasted the day thankfully.

Around 4pm things began livening up as the TV press came out in force
for their end of day bulletins. The whole atmosphere became very
agitated as everyone had had a long day—from Chilcot and his panel, to
Blair, to the protestors who hadn’t made much ground and of course the
journalists who were on edge and freezing.

With the full moon ominously floating above the Houses of Parliament,
the Inquiry ended for the day and people began leaving. I spoke to a
few, and jumped in on a few TV interviews, with my new Dictaphone. The
protestors at the exit didn’t help themselves or the press in that no
one was keen to, or even able to, talk to the press with their noise.
The TV crews were having the same problem. I spoke to a few but the
most important was a TV interview I jumped in on half way through.

I asked the man being interviewed when he’d finished if he’d mind
speaking to me and start by explaining why he had come down to the
Inquiry. “The reason I’m here today is because my son, Major Matthew
Bacon, was killed in Basra in 2005,” began Roger Bacon. He continued
to tell me, very articulately, his thoughts on the day’s events and
reasons for their importance.

As the day ended soon after, I called Keith to see if there was
anything else he was after. He asked that I send over Roger’s quote as
soon as, so I literally ran to another café—as it was way too cold to
type out an email and not possible while holding a Dictaphone—to get
the quote to Keith.

Keith and Mike used that quote and Rose’s in their two pieces on the
day’s events. Keith seemed very pleased with my work over the day and
it had certainly been worth going down for. It was one of my longest,
but certainly among my most exciting, days in journalism so far.