Richard Ingrams' Week: Too much good faith can be a bad excuse

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Civil servants at the Ministry of Defence deliberately muddied the waters over that incriminating video of two US pilots who mistakenly killed Lance Corporal Matty Hull during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

All the time that his widow was asking for the video to be produced the MoD pointedly refused to confirm that it even existed. In fact it knew perfectly well that there was a video just as it knew that the Americans were refusing to produce it as evidence in the corporal's inquest.

Critics like my friend Matthew Parris were quick to accuse the unnamed civil servants of deliberate deception. But help came from an unexpected quarter - the Prime Minister, no less. Asked by David Cameron whether the MoD had misled the family, Blair replied: "The MoD acted in good faith throughout."

Acting in good faith has now become the standard all-purpose let-out for anyone accused of any kind of questionable behaviour. Blair himself was let off the hook by Lord Butler who, while noting all the various failings of the Government prior to the invasion of Iraq, concluded nevertheless that Blair had acted in good faith.

An identical excuse was offered by the Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Ian Blair when questioned about the shooting of the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Underground Station. Mistakes may have been made, Sir Ian said, but he insisted that he himself had acted in good faith.

What exactly does it mean? Presumably both Blairs would argue that, whatever the consequences, you believed at the time that what you were doing was the right thing. Those MoD officials presumably thought likewise.

In Tony Blair's case, as he believes that every single action he takes is the right one, it is hard to see how he can ever be held to account about anything.

Unconvinced by the evidence

I have been rereading Who Killed Hanratty? by my great friend Paul Foot, first published in 1971. James Hanratty, a petty criminal, was hanged in 1962 after being found guilty of the so-called A6 murder of Michael Gregsten and the attempted murder of his girlfriend Valerie Storie. I was amused to be reminded that it was I who initially launched Paul on his lifelong crusade to establish Hanratty's innocence when I passed on to him some material submitted to Private Eye.

Over the years the Hanratty saga involved several books, TV programmes, parliamentary debate and government inquiries. It all came to a climax in 2002 when the case was again referred to the Court of Appeal, but the judges ruled that on the basis of DNA evidence Hanratty had indeed been the A6 murderer.

The press reaction was most interesting. Without referring to the now-forgotten details of the case, almost everybody took the court's judgement as the final word on the subject. DNA, which few of us understand, had established Hanratty's guilt. Foot was even patronised in some quarters for having wasted years on a misguided crusade.

At the time he wrote Who Killed Hanratty? Paul was unable, for considerations of libel, to spell out the full story. Even so no reader of his book could be left in much doubt about Hanratty's innocence. Which only makes one wonder about the uncritical faith invested in this mysterious substance called DNA.

* Some people may find it curious, even alarming, that the group human resources director at Tesco should have a say in what is taught in our schools. Such would appear to be the case. She is Clare Chapman, and she is a board member of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority set up in 1997 to develop the school curriculum.

The QCA has been in the news recently as reports circulate about its latest ideas. A week ago the QCA chairman Sir Anthony Greener unveiled new proposals to bring the English literature syllabus kicking and screaming into the 21st century. According to Sir Anthony, this means making children read books by writers such as Benjamin Zephaniah or Meera Syal.

Are these writers any good? That is not the point. Behind the QCA's approach is the same woolly idea that determines the thinking of the new-look Conservative Party. We have to modernise which means having more MPs - in the QCA's case more writers - from ethnic backgrounds and preferably women.

Who is Sir Anthony Greener, in any case? Is he a professor of literature, a learned academic?

The truth is more mundane. Sir Anthony is a businessman: deputy chairman of BT and one-time managing director of cigarette manufacturers Alfred Dunhill. He was knighted in 1999 for services to the drinks industry. And he is assisted on the QCA board by a number of like-minded people including the lady from Tesco. If you want proof that education is nowadays organised to meet the demands of big business, you need look no further.