Richard Ingrams' Week: Nothing reasonable about this intelligence

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The Independent Online

Last week 250 policemen stormed a small house in Forest Gate, London, arrested two men (one of whom they shot in the shoulder) and, in a strange echo of the Iraq fiasco, insisted that the house contained highly dangerous toxic substances. It wasn't true.

The worst aspect is not so much the raid, which is the kind of thing we have come to expect from our police force, but the reaction of the Prime Minister.

In a webcast interview (whatever that is) Blair announced that he was 101 per cent in support of the police's action. If they had "reasonable" intelligence that a terrorist attack was in prospect they were obliged to act.

The point is that we all know now that it was not reasonable intelligence at all. It was complete rubbish. The operation was ill-conceived, incompetently carried out and is already leading to growing tensions with local Muslims. Yet according to that webcast it has the Prime Minister's 101 per cent support.

The police will be only too delighted. In future they will be able to excuse any cock-up by saying they were acting on reasonable intelligence. Could they not have said the same about the shooting of the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station last year?

As a let-out it is the equivalent of Blair's own excuse for his disasters that he "acted in good faith". As for the police, the message is that from now on anything goes. I only wish that the public was slightly more alarmed.

A case of jobs for the girls?

What with the Forest Gate affair and the role of the police increasingly under the spotlight, it is surprising to see that the Police Minister is now one Tony McNulty. Is this the same Tony McNulty who was sacked only last month from the Home Office as immigration officer - one of the very few ministers under Blair whose heads have rolled, though not very far, it seems.

It must have come as a relief to Mr McNulty, who had suffered a considerable drop in his salary, to learn that his wife Christine had been made the new Chief Inspector of Schools at a salary of £150,000 a year.

Although she is, strictly speaking, Mrs McNulty, Christine Gilbert is confusedly referred to in press reports as "Miss Gilbert", giving the impression that she is not married at all.

Possibly she dislikes the Ms formula, possibly she does not wish to remind the public of her connections with Mr McNulty, particularly at this moment when he has only recently been sacked for alleged incompetence.

To the outside world it will look very much like a case of jobs for the girls, however well qualified Miss Gilbert may be for the job.

My only doubts on this point were raised when I saw that one of her supporters was the former schools inspector, Chris Woodhead. A reference from this particular gentleman might prejudice me personally against any job applicant, however impressive her CV.

* The former Coronation Street actor Adam Rickitt has failed this week to make the shortlist of Tory hopefuls queuing to succeed Michael Howard as the MP for the seat of Folkestone and Hythe. This despite being one of the men on David Cameron's A-list of recommended candidates designed to give the Tory party a trendier image.

Mr Rickitt is not surprisingly disappointed and feels that he has been singled out by critics of the list just because he is a one-time soap star.

One can see his point. Being an undistinguished actor ought not to stand in the way of a would-be statesman. After all, Ronald Reagan made it to become President of the US and thus the most powerful man in the world.

Nor should it be forgotten that David Cameron himself was for many years the PR man for the downmarket television company Carlton. Those journalists who had dealings with him during that period (1994-2001) remember him as an especially slippery and evasive character whose smooth assurances could not always be wholly relied upon.

Yet this TV PR man is now the leader of the Conservative Party and nobody is in the least bit bothered by his somewhat seedy past. So isn't it a bit unfair that those Folkestone Tories should be snooty about a man just because he used to work for Granada?