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'War criminal': UK ex-PM Tony Blair heckled during inquiry into Murdoch scandal

Updated at 10:49 a.m. ET: LONDON - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused of being "a war criminal" by a heckler who burst into a courtroom as he testifed at an U.K. inquiry into media ethics on Monday. 

The protester, who gave his name as David Lawley-Wakelin, shouted that Blair should be arrested -- but only seconds later he was bundled away by security staff.

He yelled at Blair, who is a $2.5-million-a-year adviser to U.S. investment bank JP Morgan: "This man should be arrested for war crimes. JP Morgan paid him off for the Iraq war, three months after he invaded Iraq." 

In response to the outburst, Blair said: "Can I just say on the record what he said about Iraq and JP Morgan is completely and totally untrue. I have never had a discussion with them about that."

Lawley-Wakelin describes himself online as a documentary film-maker working on a project called the "The Alternative Iraq Enquiry", for which he has traveled to Iraq.

ITV News reported he was being questioned by police, but later released.

Sky News reported that an investigation was immediately launched into how he entered the secure area of the court - an embarrassing breach of security less than a year after Rupert Murdoch was hit by a custard pie at a inquiry into the same subject at Britain's parliament.

Prior to the interruption, Blair was facing questions about his relationship with Murdoch.

Blair, who served as prime minister between 1997 and 2007, was the latest senior politician to appear at the investigation set up last year in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal when it emerged that reporters at the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid had routinely hacked into the phones of public figures. Other witnesses have included actor Hugh Grant, as well as Murdoch and his son James.

More coverage from Britain's ITV News

Blair is godfather to one of the powerful News Corp. chairman and CEO.'s children.

Ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron, the inquiry has tarnished Britain's elite by laying bare the collusion between politicians, the police and the media.

While Blair is no longer active in British politics, the inquiry may still prove uncomfortable as it examines issues such as his decision after stepping down as prime minister to become a godfather to Murdoch's daughter Grace at a ceremony on the banks of the River Jordan.

"Blair led the way in having no shame about courting Murdoch," said Ivor Gaber, professor of political journalism at City University. "He set the style and the standard and if you regard Cameron as the 'heir to Blair' then it's not exactly surprising that he followed suit."

The BBC reported that , giving evidence earlier in May, one of Mr Blair's former Cabinet ministers told the inquiry he felt the relationship had "arguably" become "closer than wise".

Murdoch told the inquiry last month that he had never asked a prime minister for anything.

Blair set the tone for his relationship with Britain's press when he flew to Australia in 1995 to speak before a gathering of Murdoch's executives who had previously used their British tabloids to vilify his Labour Party predecessors.

'Into the lion's den'
The decision infuriated much of his left-of-center party who saw the Australian-born tycoon as a right-winger who had helped to keep them out of power for years.

"People would be horrified," Blair said later in his autobiography. "On the other hand ... not to go was to say 'carry on and do your worst,' and we knew their worst was very bad indeed."

"The country's most powerful newspaper proprietor, whose publications have hitherto been rancorous in their opposition to the Labour party, invites us into the lion's den. You go, don't you?"

With the backing of Murdoch's top-selling Sun tabloid, Blair swept to power in 1997 and again in 2001 and 2005. But with an ever-increasing reputation for public relations "spin", he started to face questions over his sincerity.

"Tony Blair quickly became famous in Fleet Street for inviting in one group of newspaper people and telling them how skeptical he was about Europe; and then inviting in another lot and telling them how keen he was on Europe," Andrew Marr, a senior BBC journalist, told the inquiry.

"But the different groups compared notes, and his reputation was not hugely enhanced."

Much of that came to a head when Blair and then President George W. Bush agreed to invade Iraq, going against the public opinion in Britain.

Blair is likely to be asked why he spoke to Murdoch three times in the days leading up to the Iraq war and whether this had any impact on the fact that all Murdoch's papers supported the unpopular invasion.

He will also be asked whether his reliance on Britain's press meant that he did not properly scrutinize their role in society and whether any group, such as Murdoch's UK arm, News International, had too much control of the market.

"There was a desperation to get the Sun onside and to get News International on side, basically at all costs," Liverpool University's political professor Jonathan Tonge, told Reuters. "And if that meant sacrificing a serious analysis of the relationship and the health of the relationship, then so be it." 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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