The legal complaint made by Mr Blair related to a series of articles published by The Times in April last year called “The Blair rich project”. The articles relied on information obtained by undercover reporters who posed as advisors to a fake client and then targeted a junior advisor in the team who had acted for Mr Blair in his previous job, persuading him to disclose details about his former client’s affairs.
Despite lawyers for Mr Blair having repeatedly told The Times prior to publication that the allegations that it intended to publish were wrong, the articles suggested that Mr Blair had received special treatment from and access to HMRC when his professional advisors set up a business structure for him and that he had benefited from this. This was said to have included a meeting with “Britain’s top tax man” David Hartnett before the structure was established.
The lawyers who set up the structure have confirmed in a witness statement that there was no such meeting with Hartnett and that no contact was made with HMRC at all before the structure was set up.
Documents which came to light as part of the complaint also showed that the individual who was targeted in The Times’ sting operation had always told the reporters that arrangements of this kind were tax neutral and that no tax advantage would be gained. The source also confirmed that the central claim of the article was wrong, that he had spoken without checking his facts about events which happened almost a decade earlier and in which he had not been personally involved. He wholly withdrew his claims.
It has taken a year of legal representations and the threat of a libel claim, but in light of the evidence provided The Times has now agreed that it is duty-bound to update its articles to reflect this information and has now done so with Mr Blair’s agreement and with the settlement of his complaint.
The update also states that the structure used was tax neutral and that no tax advantage for Mr Blair was either sought or gained.