Richard Ingrams: Incompetence of hacks is matched by that of the police


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I find it hard to adjust to Andy Coulson – his appearance, I mean. In days gone by, if asked to imagine the editor of the
News of the World, you would picture a paunchy, dissolute figure over-fond of drink and nicotine, probably suffering from high blood pressure and on his way to an early grave.

Mr Coulson does not conform to this ancient stereotype. With his well-cut suit, steel-rimmed spectacles and close-cropped hair, he could be mistaken for an accountant or trainee hotel manager. Or, better still, a plain-clothes policeman. Much is made of the close relationship between the News of the World and the police. But if the relationship is so close, that is because the two organisations are doing the same kind of work, the difference being that the News of the World is doing it to make money.

Both the police and the News of the World are fairly incompetent and ill-informed, which is why in the case of the newspaper it has been reduced to tapping top people's phones in order to get stories. And when it comes to naming the guilty, rather than track down the active villains, they mount "sting operations' in order to create bogus crimes and trap the innocent into committing offences which can then be splashed all over the front page.

A family still waiting for answers

The Ian Tomlinson story is fast becoming a rerun of the Jean Charles de Menezes story. We have the family of a man who, they believe, died at the hands of the police, clamouring for some kind of redress and getting absolutely nowhere. And, as with de Menezes, no one is going to be blamed yet all those involved stand accused of negligence or worse – the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the pathologist who carried out the first postmortem, the General Medical Council which failed to discipline the pathologist for previous errors, and the coroner, Dr Paul Matthews, who appointed him in the first place.

All are invulnerable but the coroner is more invulnerable than the others because coroners are a law unto themselves, answering to no one. Dr Matthews broke his silence this week to defend his decision to appoint pathologist Dr Freddy Patel, saying that he was quite unaware when he appointed him that Dr Patel was under investigation by the GMC. But Dr Patel's shortcomings, which included the failure to spot a murder victim, went back many years, and in the small world of pathology his name had long been mud.

If Dr Matthews didn't know about this then it can justifiably be argued that he ought to have made it his business to have known. In any other high-profile post of equivalent importance, he would be called to account and might even be forced to resign.

The Camerons and their Sloaney world

"It is commonly known," said the anonymous Times obituarist of David Cameron's stockbroker father, "that David Cameron is fifth cousin to the Queen twice removed." It's hard to keep up with all the information available nowadays, and I have to confess that hitherto I have not myself been aware of this particular fact.

To read about Cameron's world is to enter the world of the Sloane Rangers, so brilliantly described in the famous Handbook. It was not, as some people thought, a satire but a very well observed description of the social habits of the upper-middle classes, for the most part well-heeled but public-spirited, country-based, church-going types, the sort of people who have specially printed stationery and silver pheasants on the sideboard. This is the world from which David Cameron, his parents and his wife Samantha hail. It is all of a piece.

According to his biographers, Cameron has a complete collection of the James Bond books and has watched Where Eagles Dare 17 times. A man of limited experience and simple tastes, no wonder he is very unwilling to part with his adviser Andy Coulson.

It reminds me of an old Peter Sellers sketch in which Sellers plays a daft-sounding aristocrat who has turned his stately home into a theme park. Interviewed for radio, his lordship is constantly interrupted by a cockney voice warning him not to sign anything. Eventually the interviewer asks who this is and Sellers replies that it's his agent – adding as an afterthought, "One must have such a man."

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