The Sketch: As Geoff Hoon doesn't read headlines - You're a weasel

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The Independent Online

We need to put Richard Ottaway's phrase in the paper: On Wednesday he paraphrased Churchill's "blood, sweat and tears" (an unwise thing to do, in normal circumstances). In the Hutton debate he wound up a swingeing attack with the words: "This Government has given us nervous perspiration, crocodile tears and someone else's blood." I report that with admiration; it's too vicious to put in on my own account.

His question continues to echo in the corridors of Parliament. Did the Prime Minister know the 45-minute weapons were, comparatively, popguns of mass destruction, and if so, why didn't anyone try to calm down the headlines of the time? The Defence Secretary gave us a characteristic defence. I didn't see any headlines, he said, I was in Poland.

The headlines were in Britain and he was in Poland. It had been our biggest news day for years, remember, with papers reporting to a fretful public that we were 45 minutes from doom!

But Mr Hoon (whose department was quite involved in all this, what with its tanks and guns and attack jets) gave us the Nelson defence: I saw no headlines! Of course, Poland is a long way away and the carrier pigeons get tired when flying there, and, naturally, this column wouldn't impugn the integrity of a public official without the facts, but it sounds like piffle to me. As the Prime Minister would put it, it is 100 per cent wrong, it is total and absolute and unadulterated piffle with not a scintilla of a grain of factual basis and it's incumbent on all of us to accept that.

Let's try and be fair to Mr Hoon. Oh, all right, let's not. He has probably been asked the wrong question. "Do you read the press cuttings from your press office?" he was asked. Not always, he replied, and not on the occasion in question. He will explain, when he has to, that he didn't actually see the headlines because they were read out to him. Or he didn't see the summaries at all because he had felt his way through the Braille version, so yes of course he knew about the headlines and never denied having known about the headlines, he just hadn't seen the headlines.

At about the same level of reality, we are now told that the Prime minister didn't know what sort of weapons he was talking about in the House of Commons, in the debate for which he had recalled Parliament.

The minister of defence (being in Poland) was unaware of any public interest in the claim that an Olympic swimming pool full of anthrax was about to be dumped on pensioners and sovereign bases in Cyprus.

Oh, and he never discussed with the PM what sort of weapons they were. Why not? How many times does he have to say it? Nobody was interested! Not Parliament nor the committee nor the public!

It only became controversial many months later when the BBC made their unfounded claim! If only it weren't for the BBC! None of this would be troubling any of us now, if it weren't for the BBC!