Tony Blair last night finally broke his silence on the execution of Saddam Hussein, saying the way the former Iraqi leader was killed was "completely wrong".
The prime minister has come under fire for failing to make a statement on the death of the dictator toppled by British and American forces in March 2003, particularly since the emergence of several videos showing the last minutes of Saddam's life.
Mobile phone footage showing the former leader being taunted by his executioners just moments before he was hanged two weeks' ago has been circulated on the internet. The Iraqi government has launched an investigation into how it was taken.
Britain's official response to the execution has been that while it opposes the death penalty, it respects the authority of the Iraqi government to make its own decisions. However, a number of senior ministers have condemned the way it was done.
Chancellor Gordon Brown this weekend said the event was "deplorable", and deputy prime minister John Prescott has said it was "totally unacceptable".
In a press conference in Downing Street last night, Mr Blair finally spoke out himself, condemning the way the execution was carried out - but arguing that people must not forget the crimes Saddam committed which led to the event.
"The manner of the execution of Saddam was completely wrong," the prime minister told reporters.
"But that should not blind us to the crimes he committed against his own people, including the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, one million casualties in the Iran-Iraq war, and the use of chemical weapons against his own people, wiping out entire villages of people.
"So the crimes that Saddam committed does not excuse the manner of his execution, and the manner of his execution does not excuse the crimes."
Mr Blair is likely to face further questioning about the execution during prime minister's questions at lunchtime today, and about Britain's strategy for Iraq in light of US president George Bush's expected announcement tonight that more troops should be sent there.
The Liberal Democrats are calling on the UK government to make clear the differences between British and US policy in this area. Leader Menzies Campbell said: "It is essential that [Mr Blair] asserts the independence of British policy towards Iraq."