Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (17/01/10)

It's not what you know, it's who you know

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Rebekah Brooks is off the hook – again. The former
Sun editor turned head honcho of News International will not now be answering Commons select committee questions on phone-hacking at the
News of the World, contrary to previous reports. Brooks had already escaped questioning in the summer, when the committee opened its investigation into allegations of criminal practice at the paper during the editorship of Andy Coulson, now David Cameron's director of communications. Until now, the committee has shown plenty of teeth, grilling Coulson and other NI execs, but at a meeting last Tuesday it decided against formally summoning Brooks. I'm told she had been refusing "point blank" to be questioned, and the committee decided against pursuing the complex parliamentary procedure necessary to force her to co-operate. The move surprises Peter Burden, author of a book on the
News of the World. "The committee really has the Screws on the run," he says. "It would be a disastrous waste of their efforts... if they gave up now." Why so bashful, Rebekah?

News that Natalie Ceeney is stepping down as head of The National Archives (TNA) brings bittersweet joy to those in the stacks. As revealed in the IoS, the hard-headed chief exec made herself unpopular at Kew by laying off specialist archivists and reducing opening hours. But Ceeney is leaving to head up the Financial Ombudsman Service (salary £170,000) giving the story a bizarre twist, as a group of archivists is poised to ask the ombudsman to investigate certain aspects of the archive's finances. Action for Archives is unhappy at the way TNA has allowed outside firms, such as, access to its databases, claiming searches now take longer and the archive is losing revenue. Ceeney, who leaves in March, would be in charge of overseeing any investigations into TNA's finances. Meanwhile, a successor will not be appointed until after the election, as it is considered politically sensitive, although Ceeney herself is a former Labour party activist. Oliver Morley, a Ceeney ally, is in charge in the interim.

In case you weren't aware, Antonia Fraser has written a book about her life with Harold Pinter. While Tanya Gold complains about the author's narcissism over at the Express, reviewer Duncan Fallowell suggests Lady Antonia may be suffering from false memory syndrome. "I found myself popping up in the narrative in terms so daft, so not-me, that confidence in the whole book was shattered at a stroke and one is forced to ask oneself: how much of the rest is daft too?" he writes. Might a libel case be on the cards?

He fought to save his name, now David Mellor is fighting to save his home. The former Conservative heritage minister is entering a new round in his battle to stop the building of a 19-storey tower overlooking his 1828 Dockmaster's House in St Katharine Dock, London. Developers are appealing against the council's decision not to allow the proposal, by hiring expensive lawyers. Now Mellor and his high-powered neighbours are doing likewise. "This isn't Nimbyism," he tells me, "but this is a conservation area and whatever is built should be proportionate. The lump of glass they are proposing comes from the worst days of Mussolini's administration. They seem to view our objections as a mere inconvenience, ploughing ahead like so many Chinese tanks going into Tiananmen Square." His partner, Lady Cobham, has paid a visit to Simon Milton in the mayor's office, but Boris is yet to get involved. "I'm fond of Boris," says Mellor, "but the backroom people haven't changed since the days of the GLA."

The bijou Norfolk town of Burnham Market is buzzing with rumours over the future of the much-loved Hoste Arms, the 17th-century inn whose fans include Stephen Fry and Amanda Holden. Proprietor Paul Whittome is undergoing treatment for cancer, raising the possibility it may be sold. According to my man in the inglenook, Norfolk-born actor Rupert Everett has expressed an interest in buying, but the idea is met with a categorical denial when I call. "It's absolutely not true," says a spokesman for the Hoste Arms. "Whatever happens, there is no question of a change of ownership." Cheers!

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