TONY Blair’s combative communications chief Alastair Campbell suggested setting lawyers on the BBC, according to newly released files.

Papers released by the National Archives show the former prime minister was warned that senior BBC officials were likely to issue a “magisterial rebuke” amid a row over their coverage of the war in Iraq in the early 2000s.

Campbell wrote to Blair on July 6 2003, saying: “If the BBC remain belligerent, I think the rhetoric has to be stepped up, up to and including the threat of putting the issue in the hands of lawyers.

It came a week after the former Number 10 spin doctor made a famous appearance on Channel 4 News, which led to critics accusing him of “losing the plot”, and just as a committee of MPs were expected to release a cache of so-called “dodgy dossiers” outlining the case for war in Iraq.

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He went on in the letter: “I think I should do something because it will look like I’m running away from the difficult parts of the report if I don’t.

“The options are a written statement, a statement to camera with no questions, a statement to camera with questions, one-on-ones with the political editors, interview and or discussion on WATO [BBC Radio 4’s World at One], Channel 4, Newsnight or a Radio 5 phone-in.”

It also came after a previous exchange of letters whereby Blair criticised the BBC’s “unacceptable” output.

On March 19, the day the invasion began, Blair sent BBC chairman Gavyn Davies a blistering letter complaining about the corporation’s coverage.

“I believe, and I am not alone in believing, that you have not got the balance right between support and dissent; between news and comment; between the voices of the Iraqi regime and Iraqi dissidents; or between the diplomatic support we have, and diplomatic opposition,” he wrote.

“I have never written to you or your predecessor in this way before, but I have heard and seen enough to feel I should do so now.”

Anji Hunter, another of the prime minister’s close aides, suggested Davies – a former Labour Party member – probably thought Blair “has a point” but would feel compelled to respond with a “magisterial rebuke” because BBC director general Greg Dyke had been copied into the letter.

“GD clearly feels in a difficult position viz this – think he would have preferred a quiet phone call from you,” she wrote.

After Campbell announced he was standing down after nine years as one of Blair’s most trusted aides, Heywood urged the prime minister to take the opportunity to carry out a complete overhaul of the No 10 press operation.

“The No 10 press office has lost all credibility as a reliable, truthful, objective operation. Even respectable journalists treat it with caution – part of a relentless politically-dominated spin machine,” he wrote.

“Although we all know this is monstrous, it has become the settled view of the entire British media and political establishment. This is disastrous for the authority of your own office.”