Village People: Was Rebekah's evidence to MPs about the dodgy detective itself a little suspect?

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Indy Politics

Rebekah Brooks offered a throwaway remark which went unchallenged in her evidence before a Commons committee this week, as she batted away questions about why the News of the World had hired a private detective, Jonathan Rees, after he had been convicted of a serious criminal offence.

This was the decision which prompted The Guardian to try to warn David Cameron not to hire Andy Coulson. By way of defence, Brooks claimed: "He used to work for Panorama." This canard has been around ever since Panorama broadcast an investigation into phone hacking last March. It was included in the News of the World's formal riposte to the programme. More recently it was cited by a Downing Street spokesman defending Cameron's decision to hire Coulson. The only source for this claim is Rees, a man whose character suggests that not everything he says can be relied upon. He claimed to have helped research a Panorama investigation into child abduction in the early 1990s. The BBC went through the archives and found there was no such Panorama programme in that period. No further information about Mr Rees's supposed work for the BBC has been forthcoming, which makes you wonder if it happened. No doubt the inquiry by Lord Leveson will investigate.

What goes around comes around

Craig Oliver, who replaced Andy Coulson as David Cameron's chief spinner, has doubtless approached the whole News International saga with the cool detachment of a professional. But he could be forgiven if he experienced a certain private pleasure at the Murdochs' discomfort. He is the son of Dr Ian Oliver, who was Chief Constable of Grampian Police until his career was brought to an end in April 1989. One of the things that did for him was a photograph in a woodland car park where Dr Oliver was enjoying the embraces of a woman who was not his wife. The photograph was published by The Sun.

The £5m question: when will America pay up?

An announcement that got lost in the general excitement in Westminster on Tuesday was the annual update on the amounts owed by diplomats in London who use their protected status to avoid paying the congestion charge or parking fines. It has been noted that the worst offenders are the countries that can best afford to pay. The US is at the top of the list, owing more than £5m since the inception of the congestion charge in 2003, with Russia, Japan and Germany not far behind. In all, the foreign diplomatic corps owes just under £50m on the congestion charge. The Chinese are quite good about paying the charge, but are the worst for running up parking fines – £27,690 in 2010 alone. Afghan and Turkish diplomats are almost as bad. The Foreign Office also published the list of embassies behind on payment of domestic rates, despite the fact they are charged only 6 per cent of what a normal office has to pay. Despite that concession, the Zimbabwean is £108,613 in arrears.

Whitehall scrambles for beach volleyball

A beach volleyball stand is being put up for a trial run in Horseguards Parade, where the event will be held during next year's Olympics, prompting a scramble in the offices in Whitehall where officials and ministers are anxious to see whether they will be able to watch the sport from their place of work. Team Clegg at 70 Whitehall fear their first floor base may not be too low down. The best placed is Michael Moore, the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary, whose Dover House office has a panoramic view of Horseguards.

In, out, in, out, EU shake it all about

Chris Moncrieff, the former political editor of the Press Association, wrote a fine piece for last weekend's Independent on Sunday on 50 years of Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons. Sadly, his terms of reference did not allow him to include one of the funniest episodes from his memory of parliamentary affairs. It dates back to 28 October 1971, when the Commons was debating whether to join what was then known as the Common Market. The late William Hamilton, Labour MP for West Fife, a committed pro-European, was exasperated by the prevarications of some of his colleagues. "Some of those who wanted to be in now say we must stay out," Mr Hamilton said. "They have been engaged in what I would call some kind of political coitus..." Hansard does not record the reaction in the chamber, but according to Moncrieff, there was a moment's shocked silence broken by a woman MP who cried: "Withdraw!"

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