Andy McSmith's Diary: When Prior knowledge appeared to be lacking


David Prior, the new chairman of the Care Quality Commission, spoke eloquently on the Today programme about the folly of sending teams in to investigate an organisation as complex as a hospital who do not have the necessary professional background. He did not mention his own painful experience of what can happen when investigators operate beyond the limits of their expertise.

In 2006, the police were called in to investigate an allegation of fraud at Cawston Park, an independent psychiatric hospital in Norfolk, of which Mr Prior was non-executive chairman. The Norfolk Constabulary did not have a fraud squad, so the case was handled by detectives whose normal job was to investigate murders. Reportedly, none had handled a fraud case.

What they lacked in relevant experience, they made up for in enthusiasm. They swept up a number of suspects in a dramatic series of dawn raids. Mr Prior’s arrest caused a sensation because he was well known in Norfolk as a former Tory MP and the son of the ex-cabinet minister, Jim Prior.

“I was arrested in the early hours of the morning, had my house searched, was questioned and held in a police cell, saw my reputation traduced in the local and national media without any opportunity to rebut the false allegations and then had to wait three months for a resolution,” he later told the BBC. In the end, the entire case collapsed.

No wonder he is fussed about whether investigators have the right background to know what they are investigating.

MP is less than furious over drinks rebuff

The Conservative Party likes to project itself as the party of small government, the party that is on our side when officialdom is unnecessarily restrictive. So you might assume that Ruth Davidson, the 34-year-old leader of Scottish Conservatives, would be furious with the barman who officiously refused to serve her at a Bruce Springsteen concert. Curiously, she has taken the rebuff very well. He thought she looked under 18.

Strictly not true: Nadine laughs off dance rumour

Viewers of Strictly Come Dancing were in danger of being subjected to the Tory MP Nadine Dorries swirling across the polished floor, according to headlines on the BBC website and the Daily Mail this week. This speculative story was based on a throwaway remark she made in an interview with Total Politics magazine. I hate to disappoint, but she has put out a denial on Twitter – “It was a JOKE!” she wrote.

Cash causes consternation

When the veteran MP Bill Cash stood up at Prime Minister’s Questions to ask a question about the role of women in the developing world, there were so many cries of astonishment that the Speaker, John Bercow, had to call for quiet. Why, you ask?

Well, these are the previous subjects on which Mr Cash has spoken about in Parliament this year – the EU Common Agricultural Policy, European arrest warrants, the need for a referendum on the EU, the “Europeanisation” of the railways, the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, Margaret Thatcher, “who understood the European issue”, the eurozone crisis, the European Council, Cyprus… I’m sorry, that not the whole of this year, that is just the past three months. I have lost the will to go on any further.