Tony Blair was accused of being a “coward” today when he was driven into the Iraq Inquiry via a side entrance two hours before he was due to give evidence.
He avoided having to confront hundreds of anti-war protesters who gathered outside the QEII Centre in Westminster to vent their anger at the former prime minister.
Protest organisers said they were “appalled” at the way Mr Blair had “sneaked” into the inquiry.
Andrew Murray, chairman of the anti-war group, said: “This cowardly and deceitful entrance is typical of how the former prime minister sold the war to the country – behind the backs of the public.”
Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said: “He doesn’t have the decency or honesty to face up to the public, military families, and Iraqis who will be here today in huge numbers to show their opposition to the war.
“He does not have the integrity to come and face the people.
“Sliding in by a back door entrance is typical of his lies, deceit and evasion.”
Kate Hudson, chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said Mr Blair should be arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity.
“He should face a court. The way he arrived today was just sneaky. He just does not want to face up to his crimes – it is an outrage.”
Ahead of today’s hearing, hundreds of demonstrators had gathered outside the centre, which was heavily protected by a ring of police.
Protesters shouted slogans including “Jail Tony” and “Blair lied – thousands died”.
There was a stand-off between police and leaders of the Stop the War Coalition, who accused the Metropolitan Police of breaking agreements on where protesters would be allowed to stand.
The demonstrators were prevented from gathering on a grassed area outside the main entrance to the QEII Centre.
Police had erected two lines of barriers overnight, forcing them to stand on the pavement opposite Westminster Abbey.
Many of the demonstrators wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “Jail Tony”.
One group of demonstrators wearing Tony Blair masks and with fake blood on their hands carried a coffin bearing the slogan: “The blood price.”
Saba Jaiwad, from an Iraqi anti-war group, said his fellow countrymen and women had suffered “appalling” consequences as a result of the war.
“The Iraqi people are having to live every day with aggression, division, and atrocities.
“Tony Blair should not be here giving his excuses for the illegal war, he should be taken to The Hague to face criminal charges because he has committed crimes against the Iraqi people.”
Katherine Hamnett, a leading fashion designer who joined the protest, said she believed the way the UK was taken to war showed that the political system in this country had failed.