Cherie Blair embraces former IRA commander Martin McGuinness at funeral of Tony Benn
- Deputy First Minister attended with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
- Mr Adams was also at funeral and called Tony Benn 'a friend of Ireland'
- Mrs Blair's husband once admitted he liked both 'more than I should have'
- The Queen famously shook Mr McGuinness' hand two years ago and is set to invite him to state dinner at Windsor
The human rights QC smiled and embraced Northern Ireland's deputy First Minister as they filed out of St Margaret's Church, Westminster this afternoon.
Public figures had been paying their last respects to Mr Benn, who served as a Labour MP for more than 50 years and died two weeks ago at 88.
Mr McGuinness attended the service with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who Tony Blair admitted in his memoirs he liked 'more than I should have'.
Warm embrace: Cherie Blair kissed and hugged Martin McGuinness after Tony Benn's Westminster funeral today
Mrs Blair, who was at the funeral without her husband, also spent time with Tony Benn's family, pictured here with eldest son Stephen
Final journey: Mr Benn's children and grandchildren carried his coffin after the funeral before the private service and cremation
Mrs Blair and her husband got to know Mr McGuinness and Mr Adams during the peace process.
'Whether you like them or not, and no matter how strongly you disapprove of their past actions, they had courage in abundance,' Mr Blair wrote when he left power.
Cherie Blair's warmth towards the Northern Irish politician came two years after the Queen shook his hand.
The momentous act came 33 years after her cousin, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, was murdered by an IRA bomb as he holidayed with his family.
The decision to shake hands with a former IRA commander was an astonishing act of forgiveness by the 86-year-old monarch who adored her ‘Uncle Dickie’.
Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, a nephew of Lord Mountbatten, also offered his hand even though Philip was exceptionally close to his uncle and took news of his murder in 1979 hard.
Greeting: Hilary Benn (left), the son of former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn, hugged and spoke to Martin McGuinness outside St Margaret's Church
Colleagues: Mr McGuinness was at the funeral with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who described Tony Benn as a 'friend of Ireland'
Message: Gerry Adams tweeted to his 45,000 followers that he was off to London for today's funeral
It also emerged that he may be travelling to Windsor Castle next month for a state dinner hosted by Her Majesty.
Mr McGuinness admitted his IRA past to the Saville Inquiry in 1998, but has always insisted he never killed anyone – claims that have been repeatedly questioned by his critics.
He joined the Provisional IRA as a teenager and quickly rose up the ranks. By 1971, aged 21, he was second in command of the IRA in Derry.
He held that position at the time of Bloody Sunday, when 14 civil rights protesters were killed by British paratroopers in the city.
Historic moment: The Queen shakes hands with former IRA commander Martin McGuinness in front of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson (centre) and the world's cameras in 2012
Meeting: Tony Blair with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness during peace negotiations at Downing Street in 2005
During the Saville Inquiry into the events of that day, Paddy Ward claimed McGuinness had personally handed him bomb parts, an allegation McGuinness claimed was 'fantasy'.
In 1973, he was convicted by Ireland's Special Criminal Court, after being caught with a car loaded with explosives and ammunition. He refused to recognise the court, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment.
However, he has never denied his role in the IRA, saying in September last year: ‘I didn’t say I never fired a gun - I was in the IRA. There were battles on the streets of Derry.'
'Warriors of Ireland': McGuinness (far right) with other IRA men in 1972
He claims he left the Provisionals in 1974 to pursue a career in politics - five years before the IRA assassinated Lord Mountbatten.