Editor-At-Large: Stop persecuting Yentob

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The Independent Online

I have a great deal of sympathy for the BBC's director of drama, entertainment and children's programmes, Alan Yentob, who this weekend waits anxiously for the outcome of an investigation into his expenses. A former police officer has joined a lawyer, a personnel manager and a financial controller leafing through shoals of receipts in search of irregularities. One allegation is that Mr Yentob used his company car and chauffeur to take his children to school. Who cares? If it releases him to work longer hours, then what's the problem? I smell a witch-hunt here. Mr Yentob has spent all his working life at the BBC. If the new director-general, Mark Thompson, wishes to shuffle Mr Yentob from his post ­ entirely understandable ­ then it would have been far more humane just to call him into the office and do it. The BBC has quite a few people fiddling their expenses, doing drugs on company property and nicking things from studios. So does every large organisation in Britain.

When I read that Adam Crozier, the Post Office boss, is taking a massive bonus in spite of failing 15 targets, and so are the lacklustre directors of Network Rail, I feel nauseous with rage. But Mr Yentob's main crime is to still loyally report for work when there's been a regime change all around him. Don't waste even more licence-payers' money on this pathetic bit of detective work ­ give the man a decent pay-off and call it a day.

Unfair cop

James Hewitt is a repulsive character and yet the sight of him leaving Notting Hill Police Station after a night in the cells almost moves me to pity. At the end of a long liquid afternoon spent boozing in a couple of bars near his home, Diana's love-rat is mysteriously busted by the cops and hauled off on suspicion of possessing cocaine. Hold the front page! After an anonymous tip-off, plain clothes officers moved in, and asked Mr Hewitt to empty his pockets. Then he was handcuffed and taken away in a police car.

Hewitt has been part of our tawdry celebrity culture for so long now, it's not surprising that one of the many paparazzi photographers who stalk him daily decided to call the fuzz, sensing that a brilliant photo opportunity would result. Now Mr Hewitt's back on the front pages of the tabloids and the snappers are cashing in. But should the police have responded in such a heavy-handed way? Surely Mr Hewitt is guilty of many misdemeanours, from appalling dress sense to serious lack of tact, but to cart him off to the nick in handcuffs like a bank robber or paedophile seems ludicrous.

Last week the Home Office announced the results of the latest British Crime Survey and, astonishingly, overall crime has fallen by 39 per cent since 1995. Violent crime reported to the police, however, is on the increase, rising by 12 per cent, and nearly half of the violence involving "strangers" (as opposed to domestic violence) was related to alcohol. So far this summer, the police have discovered that half the pubs they have raided in their latest alcohol initiative have been selling booze to people under 18.

The police still display a lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to possession of drugs. The latest focus of Home Office attention is the humble magic mushroom. Recently a thriving trade has grown up exploiting a loophole in the law that allows its sale. Now this looks set to end as ministers plan to crack down on the sale of any product containing the hallucinogenic components psilocybin or psilocin. So it's OK to wander into a field, pick some mushrooms for yourself and take a trip, but not OK to pay any money for them. At the same time, Customs and Excise officials have been only too happy to receive thousands of pounds in VAT chargeable on magic mushrooms imported from the Netherlands. Nevertheless, flexing their new zero-tolerance approach, the police have raided shops selling mushrooms in Birmingham and Guildford, while a case is about to come to court in Canterbury in which the defendants have been charged with supplying psilocin.

Drugs blight people's lives, and the crime carried out to finance their purchase is disgraceful. But the only way to combat the widespread use of recreational drugs in Britain is to legalise them, sell them at government-run shops and charge VAT. How much longer are we going to expect our police officers to train to the highest standards in the world, be fully conversant with the latest crime-busting technology, be able to interact meaningfully with a ethnically diverse bunch of customers ­ and piddle about slapping handcuffs on a drunken toff because he may want to stick a bit of white powder up his nose in order to boost his gigantic ego even more? Then, when the hard-pressed police have finished writing up that charge sheet, they can get back in their panda car, drive down to Portobello Road and spend the rest of the afternoon arresting a few hippies for flogging dried mushrooms.

The police have a thankless task operating on the front line in inner cities where many young people have little or no idea of decorum or decency. So it's unfair for the Home Office to demand that people are arrested for drug "crimes" that aren't worth 10 minutes of a copper's time. Educating young people in primary schools about drinking and drugs needs to be a priority. Dealing with crime relating to booze is another. But busting Mr Hewitt is a joke.

Another bad week for modern architecture as the Victoria and Albert Museum had its application for a grant towards the cost of building an extension designed by Daniel Libeskind turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The director of the fund claimed the proposal "would not be able to deliver the major heritage benefits that we expect to see for such a large request". Recently the National Heritage Memorial Fund (also using taxpayers' money and with the same trustees) coughed up £17.4m to buy Tyntesfield, a Victorian gothic mansion, via the National Trust. Now the Lottery Fund is being asked for another £20m to tart it up. So I hope these trustees can justify the "heritage benefit" a fake gothic palace outside Bristol will bring to each and every one of us when, for a £15m investment of their funds, London could have been enriched with a world-class piece of architecture. Not only would this have been free to all (rather than just National Trust members), it would also have established Britain as a cultural force. Mr Libeskind's "Spiral" is bold and unforgettable, but it seems that our commissars in the heritage industry prefer to fund cosy restorations of the past or renovate derelict canals in schemes enthusiastically endorsed by the Prince of Wales.