Richard Ingrams' Week: Don't expect heads to roll over this railway chaos

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The Independent Online

Some poor deluded fools were calling for heads to roll this week in the wake of the great train disaster which left lines and stations closed and hundreds of passengers stranded over the holiday period.

But when did heads last roll as a result of incompetence by public officials? If you want a good example of how things work nowadays, just look at the police and the Stockwell station shooting of an innocent Brazilian electrician. Not a single officer was disciplined. On the contrary, two of those most closely involved, including the director of operations, Commander Cressida Dick, were actually promoted. The overall chief, Sir Ian Blair, though discredited in the eyes of the public, never gave a thought to resignation.

In the case of Network Rail, I was interested to see that one of the companies contracted to carry out engineering work at Rugby was Jarvis, who readers may remember was responsible for the Potters Bar crash of 2002. Not only is it still in business, it is still being given work to do on the track.

In the circumstances, was it at all likely that any heads at Network Rail would roll? All the chief executives are due to receive huge bonuses on top of their massive salaries, while the big chief, Ian McAllistair who gets 250,000 for a three-day week has even been awarded a knighthood in the New Year's Honours List.

All that will happen is that Network Rail, just like the police after Stockwell, will be ordered to pay a huge fine. But as both organisations are already subsidised out of public funds, the only result of reducing their funds even further is to provide them with a useful excuse for further incompetence.

Inadvertent curse of a princess

Superstitious people like me must be tempted to believe that there is some kind of curse attached to the late Princess Diana. It means that any project connected with her name will result in an undignified shambles.

You can see that happening with the inquest into her death. To begin with, proceedings were delayed when the original judge, Mrs Justice Butler Sloss, decided at a late stage that she didn't fancy the job after all. Her successor, Mr Justice Scott Baker, seems to have taken the view that anyone with anything to say on the subject of Diana, however irrelevant, was welcome in the witness box. After several months of this, the likelihood is that the jury will bring in a verdict of accidental death, and Mohamed al-Fayed will then allege that another establishment conspiracy has been proved.

Parallel to this legal farce is the long-running story of the Diana Fountain in Kensington Gardens, which an engineer claimed this week would have to be entirely rebuilt. A kind of circular paddling pool, the so-called fountain was the brainchild of an American landscape artist, Kathryn Gustafson. "Diana's secret garden," Gustafson explained, "her inner self, her basic integrity stayed with her. That's why it's an oval. It s also contemporary, feminine and flowing like her."

The fountain failed to live up to this romantic ideal being plagued by cracks, flooding, injuries to children, etc. A poll of foreign visitors voted it the fifth most disappointing tourist attraction in Britain. At the latest toll, the bill for the Diana Fountain was more than 5m. The inquest will almost certainly top that, given that so many lawyers are involved. So it looks as if the spirit of Diana, far from resting in peace, is set upon causing mayhem.

* Fury and anguish are said to have greeted the news that there is to be a cull of thousands of badgers now generally accepted to be the cause of TB in cattle.

Plans are already advanced for a mass extermination of badgers over a wide area of the West Country, to begin in the summer. The operation will then be repeated annually for three years.

Being nocturnal creatures, badgers are seldom seen except when they are dead. So it is rather hard to explain why they should attract such a disproportionate amount of love and sympathy among the public, or why there should be such fury over the forthcoming cull.

Some people put the blame on Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame, whose famous badger is a gruff but kindly old gent pottering about in his underground home, though a more realistic picture of the animal can be found in Beatrix Potter's Tale of Mr Tod. Her Tommy Brock is a sly and smelly scrounger who eats baby rabbits and goes to bed in his boots.

Bill Oddie, the bearded naturalist of the BBC, is probably responsible for the vociferous pro-badger lobby. His Springwatch programme has filmed them on several occasions romping around in the moonlight, with little sign of dead baby rabbits, let alone nasty smells.

If the great affection for badgers is based purely on TV programmes, the answer to the problem would seem to be quite simple. Slaughter the majority of the badgers while preserving a sett or two for the BBC to film at regular intervals.