Richard Ingrams' Week: Good things come to those who make mistakes

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The Independent Online

When questioned during the recent court hearing over the De Menezes shooting at Stockwell Tube station, Commander John McDowall, who had led the surveillance operation of Mr de Menezes, said: "We did our best."

Considering that this incident, which ended in the shooting of an innocent Brazilian, was one of the most cack-handed and incompetent operations in the history of the British police, it was not quite the right thing to say. McDowall would perhaps have done better to imitate Mr Blair and simply say that he did what he thought was right.

Not that any of it mattered much as far as the police were concerned. For McDowall has now been appointed national coordinator of terrorist investigations. The Metropolitan Police Authority, making the appointment, commended his ability to prevent terrorist, extremist or subversive activities.

McDowall's new appointment caused little protest as far as I could tell. But perhaps by now the public no longer has a capacity to be shocked by this kind of thing. After all, Sir Ian Blair, who bears overall responsibility for the Stockwell shooting, resolutely refuses to resign. Commander Cressida Dick, the senior officer in charge of the operation, was promoted to be deputy assistant commissioner even while her role in the affair was still under investigation.

The argument about giving police more and more powers to deal with suspected terrorists continues to rage. The argument against it is a simple question of civil liberties. But there is also a very practical matter which must occur to quite a lot of people, if not to many members of Parliament. Ought we to give any more powers to people like Blair, Dick and McDowall who have been found guilty of incompetence on a massive scale but who, instead of being penalised, have won promotion on the strength of it?

On the 12th week of Christmas...

One reason that Christmas no longer feels like the celebration it used to be is that too much of it goes on before 25 December.

But that is in keeping with the modern trend to bring everything forward in time. Easter eggs are in the shops in February. Politicians start wearing Remembrance Day poppies in the middle of October.

Christmas has been with us in the shops and in the TV commercials since autumn, with the result that when Christmas Day actually dawns, it will do so on a nation which is already quite fed up with the whole idea of Christmas.

Christianity, which after all invented it, had the right idea, which was that the period of Advent before Christmas was a time of prayer and fasting followed by 12 days of feasting and fun. Prayer and fasting have little meaning for people today, apart from Muslims. So, like greedy children who can't wait to open the presents, we now have to have it all before the big day. Parties continue throughout December. Office lunches are served, featuring turkey and Christmas pudding.

This is the most depressing feature of all. Christmas Day used to be the one day of the year when we pulled crackers, wore paper hats and set a pudding on fire.

Nowadays, people are doing that sort of thing well before Christmas, even at private dinner parties, with the result that Christmas Day is no longer special. By the time the day finally arrives, we already have that been-there-done-that feeling.

* There is no obligation on TV companies to provide balance when dealing with the arts as there is with politics. Thus when the Tate Gallery supremo Sir Nicholas Serota is seen presenting the prestigious Turner Prize to a man who filmed himself for two hours wandering about in a bear suit, nobody will be brought on to say what 99 per cent of the viewers must be thinking, ie this is a load of tosh.

The smug pretentiousness of the art world, personified by the sinister-looking Serota, is one reason why I have always deplored the criminalisation of art forgers. Last month, a husband and wife team, Mr and Mrs Greenhalgh, both in their 80s, were sentenced, following a 17-year forgery spree passing off faked paintings, prints and ceramics.

And this week, as reported in The Independent, yet another of their profitable fakes was revealed in the shape of a sculpture of a faun by Gauguin, pictured above, purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago for $125,000.

At the time, the institute's curator, Douglas Druick, enthused about the purchase, drawing special attention to the highly significant fact that the faun had no penis. This resulted, he said, in an aura of "impotence".

"Gauguin," he went on, "evidently linked this iconography to his failing relationship with his wife."

We cannot deny that the Greenhalghs were in it for the money. But, along the way, they were helping to expose the pretentiousness of people like Mr Druick, thus performing a valuable public service for which they should be thanked rather than sent to prison.

The fact that this elderly couple was able to fool the art experts for 17 long years makes you wonder why we should take any of them at all seriously.

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