And they all got off Scott-free ...

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The Independent Online
I have had my copy of the Scott report on order for several weeks now, and there I was yesterday at our local bookshop to get my copy. However, the bookseller chap said he could not let me have it to take away.

"What are you talking about?" I demanded.

"I'm afraid you can't have your copy to take home," he said.

"But look here, dammit!" I cried. (I get terribly colonial when I am feeling annoyed. And it usually works, too.) "I ordered my copy for today. It is published today, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"And it has arrived, hasn't it?"

"Yes."

"So why ... ?"

"Government regulations, I'm afraid. You can read it here in the bookshop, but only under supervision, only for an hour or two and only if you don't take it home with you."

It was then I slowly became aware that, in the rather small space available to him, our bookseller had set up a series of desks and chairs, rather like a classroom, and that on each sat a copy of the Scott report.

And behind me there were seven other people, also looking rather dazed.

"I'm sorry," said the bookseller, raising his voice, "but one of the conditions of sale is that we take the money from you for the Scott report but do not let you take it away. You must read it here. You have two hours altogether. At the end of that time you must leave the reports here."

"But that's monstrous!" exclaimed a man with a spotty neck and a spotty bow tie, although the bow tie was better designed. "If a man buys a book, he is entitled to take it away."

"Only if the publisher agrees. And Her Majesty's Stationery Office, which is handling this report, has been told to restrict it to one brief viewing per reader."

We had no choice. And a couple of minutes later, the eight of us were all sitting at the desks reading our Scott reports.

I have to say, it was heavy going to begin with. But then, as you got further into it, it got even heavier. There was a bit of light relief at one point when the woman in front of me dropped her copy on the floor and almost fell over trying to pick it up, but our sympathetic laughter only brought the bookseller rushing in.

"What's the trouble?" he asked.

"Nothing," we said.

"I heard some talking," he said. "No conferring, no talking. Government orders."

After half an hour, the bow-tied man turned to me and whispered, "This is dreadful stuff. Even if you were interested in arms to Iraq, you'd find this tedious."

"Aren't you interested in arms to Iraq?" I asked him.

"Not in the least. My wife is a cousin of the Waldegraves and she's asked me to find out if we should send them a message of condolence. Or cut them dead, of course."

"As far as I can make out," I said, "Scott seems to think William Waldegrave acted in good faith the whole time."

"What does he mean by 'in good faith'?"

"It means he thinks Waldegrave was a twit but not a liar."

"Hmm. I don't think I can tell the wife to drop them a note saying, 'Sorry to hear you're a twit - glad you're not a liar ...'," he said regretfully.

"God, this is dreary stuff," said the woman who had dropped her copy. "Do you think the Government will apologise for any of it?"

"Oh, come on!" I said. "This Government has never apologised for anything. And all these ministers in their testimony to the Scott inquiry refused point-blank at any time to admit they had changed policy or guidelines, or lied to Parliament - or anything. If they refused to admit anything to Scott, will they admit anything to anyone else now?"

"Are you saying," said the bow-tied man slowly, "that it was a total waste of time having the inquiry? Surely the report was about more than just arms? It was about the way we are governed today."

"And what is the Government going to do about that?" I asked. There was a silence.

"The mistake wasn't in having an inquiry. It was in our thinking it would do any good."

The bookseller came in. "Anything I can do?" he asked.

"Yes," we said, with surprising vehemence, getting up and advancing on him with our Scotts at the ready. "We all want our money back."

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