Richard Ingrams' Week: Police work is easier when the facts are known


People are rightly puzzled by the question of what exactly the police are up to with their wide-ranging investigations in the cash for honours affairs.

One should remember, I think, that the police find most of their work difficult and frustrating. They have to search for clues, follow people about, assemble data on their computers etc.

And at the end of the day, if they finally manage to charge somebody, they must go to court and quite possibly end up seeing their man acquitted.

How much more satisfying, then, to pursue an investigation into a case where all the facts are known, thanks to all the leaked memos that have been printed in the newspapers over several months, and where just about anyone who has any interest in the affair knows pretty well exactly what happened.

I believe this explains why the former chief of the Metropolitan Police, Lord Stevens, should have been happy to investigate the death of Princess Diana. The facts had been established early on and had been confirmed by an intensely thorough investigation by the French authorities. So from Stevens' point of view it was a doddle and, as an added advantage, involved many trips to Paris.

The honours affair is just the same. We all know perfectly well what has happened, and those like the curry tycoon Sir Gulam Noon who were expecting to get honours have been only too happy to speak publicly.

The only remaining question is: did Blair know what was going on? It seems fairly obvious that he did. But no one is going to charge him with an offence. That sort of thing happens only in America.

Grade's argument is a BBC repeat

Questioned about the massive salaries paid to top BBC executives, the chairman Michael Grade makes the familiar point that the corporation has to pay up, because otherwise those executives might go and work for commercial television.

It is tempting to counter the argument by saying that if that's the sort of people they are (i.e. money-grabbers for whom an annual salary of half a million is not enough), then let them go.

But in the case of the BBC, Grade's point is refuted by the quality of those concerned. You can tell how undistinguished they are by considering the generally poor quality of the BBC's current output. It was the former director-general of the BBC John Birt who used to justify his ever-rising salary by saying he could earn a great deal more working elsewhere.

When he finally resigned he let it be known that he had received a number of tempting job offers. There were even suggestions that he might be going to work for the world's richest man, Bill Gates.

In the event, however, the only person who was prepared to give him a job was the Prime Minister. Described as a "blue skies" thinker Birt was supposed to come up with new policies for his employer. But to this day no one has been able to point to anything useful that he did.

* The French footballer Zinedine Zidane has come up with a new kind of apology that could well prove useful to all kinds of other public figures when put on the spot.

Speaking on French television about his World Cup disaster, Zidane, left, said: "I would like to apologise ... but I don't regret my behaviour."

It would be only too easy for critics to argue that this statement is yet further proof of the fact that you can be a brilliant footballer and quite stupid at the same time.

Zidane, however, has cleverly pioneered a new formula whereby somebody can simultaneously satisfy the demands of those who think he should apologise and those who think he shouldn't. (It is, of course, possible that it was a PR man who came up with the helpful form of words.)

Blair has been known to apologise only for things that happened a long time ago which he had nothing to do with, like the Irish famine. President Chirac showed a similar spirit when he apologised this week to the late Captain Dreyfus, wrongly imprisoned as a German spy in 1894. Chirac is unlikely to apologise for his own questionable business dealings. Blair has never looked like apologising for his disastrous and illegal invasion of Iraq.

But what better way of silencing the critics than to follow the example of Zidane. He could apologise for going to war and add that he did not regret it.

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